By Chris Emma—
CHICAGO (CBS) — A baseball lifer, White Sox manager Rick Renteria knows well the struggles that Matt Davidson has endured
It can be a cruel game, one that often doesn’t reward those whose investments are so great. Here’s Davidson nearly eight years removed from being a first-round pick, and he’s just getting started with a new opportunity, just like his manager.
“I can completely understand that and do appreciate the situation he’s in,” Renteria said Thursday with a smile after his first win as White Sox skipper.
Davidson’s three-run homer in the fourth inning propelled the White Sox to an 11-2 blowout win over the Tigers, the first win for Renteria as a manager since 2014 with the Cubs. His White Sox face an awkward existence this season – the very beginning of an organizational overhaul.
Before the White Sox can welcome their next generation to the big leagues and again fight for a division title, they have a few years of this to come. The lineup is filled with a mix of veteran trade chips, replacement-level players and young prospects getting their chance.
And there’s Davidson, quite the unique case. He was a first-round pick in 2009, exactly two weeks before shortstop Tim Anderson turned 16 years old. With a powerful bat coming out of California, it seemed Davidson had a bright big league future ahead of him.
Thursday brought just his 32nd game in the major leagues. He crushed a ball 443 feet for a three-run homer and nearly had another on what would be a triple off the wall. In 2016, Davidson’s debut with the White Sox ended after two at-bats when he suffered a broken foot running the bases. It was a fluke injury and simply not fair.
During this season debut for Davidson, he appreciated legging out a triple so seamlessly, then trotting around the bases for his first home run since September 2013. He even joked about the good feeling to finish a game, but he knows the harsh truth too well.
Davidson doesn’t want his name to fall down that well of baseball irrelevance. He refuses to be defined by the struggles that led to his opportunity in 2017. Now 26, his young career could be just getting started.
“There will be a lot of firsts this year,” Davidson said.
Davidson finally made an Opening Day roster on this White Sox team with an organizational eye for the future. Players like Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito, Michael Kopech and Reynaldo Lopez are coming down the road. Davidson hopes to join them for the long haul.
The White Sox acquired Davidson in 2013, a big chip dealt back for reliever Addison Reed. He had just hit .280 and knocked 17 home runs before getting the call to the majors with the Diamondbacks. Then came a stretch of miserable fortunes.
Davidson hit .199 in 2014 with the Triple-A Charlotte Knights and followed in 2015 with a .203 mark. The power has always been there, with Davidson hitting a combined 43 homers during those two seasons, but the strikeouts came at a clip of more than 30 percent.
Success finally arrived in 2016, with Davidson increasing the average to .268 and dropping the strikeout rate to 26.4 in 75 games with the Knights. He earned a call up to the big leagues in June and then suffered the injury. For all the promise, Davidson couldn’t find prosperity.
Davidson finally gets another chance. They don’t come often enough in the major leagues. He will be the primary designated hitter and spend some time at first and third base for these White Sox. If Todd Frazier gets traded – a possibility closer to July – Davidson would become the everyday player at third base.
You better believe general manager Rick Hahn is rooting for this feel-good story to pan out. Davidson could be the third baseman of their future if luck finally finds him.
Rebuilding can be a painful process. The players vow to fight for success like these White Sox have, all while management looks toward what’s next. There are veterans ready for a trade at any moment and young players hoping to stick in the big leagues.
Rare is it to find a first-rounder-turn-longshot nearly eight years from being drafted. Davidson reinvented himself as a hitter, then rehabbed from a brutal break. Now he’s rejuvenated by another chance to chase that promise.
“I’m just excited,” Davidson said, “and ready to enjoy the ride.”