In the second round of the 2018 MLB draft, the Cubs selected outfielder Brennen Davis out of Basha High School in Arizona. Prior to the draft, his athleticism had been quite apparent, as he was also a highly touted basketball player, though he did drop basketball in his senior year to focus on baseball.
After the draft in 2018, he played 18 rookie ball games, slashing .298/.431/.333. In 2019, he got bumped up to A-ball, playing 50 games there and hitting .305/.381/.525, wRC+ of 160. His eight home runs were perhaps the most encouraging development, as it had been hoped that his power would catch up to athleticism in order for him to reach his ceiling. After the pandemic wiped out the minors in 2020, Davis spent the majority of 2021 in Double-A. In 76 games there, he hit 13 home runs and slashed .252/.367/.474, wRC+ of 135. He got promoted to Triple-A in September and hit even better, though over a small sample of just 15 games. His line at that level was .268/.397/.536. In Baseball America’s most recent list of the top 100 prospects in baseball, they put Davis in the 16th spot.
As Davis was having this excellent season in the minors, the Cubs were undergoing a big selloff at the big league level, trading away most of the core players from their recent championship run, including Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez and others. The Cubs still have a stable of outfield options on the roster, such as Rafael Ortega, Ian Happ, Clint Frazier, Jason Heyward, Michael Hermosillo, Harold Ramirez, Alfonso Rivas, Greg Deichmann, Nelson Velazquez, Christopher Morel and Alexander Canario.
Despite all of those names, very few of them have done enough to guarantee themselves significant playing time this year. Happ is certain to be in there somewhere. Heyward will likely continue to get playing time with the Cubs hoping he plays well enough that they can move his contract somehow. Frazier and Ramirez are reclamation projects, having each been designated for assignment by their previous teams at the end of 2021. They will probably get some initial playing time as the Cubs see if they found some hidden gems, but they will have to show improvement in order to earn more than an audition. The rest of the group has little or no MLB experience. There’s also the distinct possibility that the Cubs continue their high-turnover roster churn of recent years and trade from this group.
Davis has played all three outfield positions in the minors, but more in center than the corners. The incumbent center fielder for the Cubs is Rafael Ortega, as he got most of the playing time there in the second half of 2021. It was something of a late career breakout season for Ortega, who has been bouncing from team to team for over a decade. Since his debut in affiliated ball in 2008, he’s played in the organizations of the Rockies, Cardinals, Angels, Padres, Marlins and Braves, before joining the Cubs. Going into 2021, he had played 143 MLB games across four different seasons, but he ended up playing 103 games for the Cubs last year, hitting .291/.360/.463 for a wRC+ of 120. His defense was considered slightly below average by Statcast, DRS and UZR, but because of his offensive contributions, he produced 1.6 fWAR in those 103 games. Still, due to his years as a journeyman, he’s not a long-term solution in center as he turns 31 in May.
Davis faces other obstacles to reaching the big leagues, however. For one thing, he’s not on the 40-man roster yet, as he won’t be Rule 5 eligible until the end of the year. That means that calling him up will involve someone else losing their spot. Then there’s also the service time question, which hovers over any highly-touted prospect who is near MLB-ready at the start of a season. In the ongoing CBA negotiations, the owners did make an attempt to address this, as their most recent proposal involved teams that promote top prospects on Opening Day being rewarded with an extra draft pick should that player eventually finish top five in the voting for MVP, Cy Young or Rookie of the Year. (More details here.) However, it’s unknown if that proposal, or a modified one, will survive until the new CBA is eventually agreed upon. Even if that provision exists, it’s not a guarantee that a team will value a theoretical draft pick more than guaranteeing themselves an extra year of control over a highly-touted prospect.
Regardless of how the timeline plays out, the 22-year-old Davis should be with the Cubs at some point this year, with the potential to be a key building block as they look to navigate a quick turnaround from their big selloff and open up a new competitive window.