There’s no one more ready for the 2016 International League season to begin than Matt Davidson.
After two years that saw the Charlotte Knights’ third baseman hit plenty of home runs but do little else, Davidson is ready to show that he’s more than just a power hitter.
“I’ve made just one little adjustment, and it’s made the biggest difference in the world,” Davidson said before the Knights’ workout Wednesday at BB&T BallPark.
“I’ve had two bad seasons, but I had a lot of success before that. I just kinda got in a rut, and didn’t know how to fix it. But I worked with a guy, and he fixed my posture, and you saw what happened in spring training.”
The “guy” Davidson worked with during spring training was Jim Thome, who hit 612 home runs – seventh on the all-time list – in 22 seasons in the majors.
In his first two seasons with the Chicago White Sox organization, Davidson showed he had power – 20 home runs in 2014 and an IL-leading 23 in 2015.
But Davidson also put up record numbers of strikeouts – 164 in 2014 and 191 last year – while batting .199 and .203 the past two seasons. That was far below the .268 batting average he had during his first five minor league seasons.
“I lost all my confidence, without a doubt,” Davidson said. “But I put in a lot of work this offseason.”
After working with Thome – now a special assistant to White Sox general manager Rick Hahn – Davidson experienced a hitting renaissance.
Davidson hit .413 in 22 spring training games, the best among White Sox players with 10 or more games. His on-base percentage of .438 and .783 slugging percentage also led the team, and his five home runs tied for the team lead with major leaguers Jose Abreu, Avisail Garcia and former Knights teammate Tyler Saladino.
“Hitting is tough – you can’t just pinpoint one small thing,” first-year Knights manager Julio Vinas said. “It was maybe both (in Davidson’s case), the mental side of it and also the physical side, and one magnified the other.”
Most important, Davidson only had nine strikeouts in 46 at-bats – a 5.1-to-1 ratio that’s nearly double the at-bats-to-strikeout ratio he’s had the past two years with the Knights (2.8-to-1).
“I saw the results right away,” Davidson said. “I was kinda nervous to see how it would translate to the game, but I stuck to my routine. That definitely helped my confidence, because this game is results based.
“I kept it together pretty well for a guy hitting .200 for two straight years. But seeing those results, it definitely gets that monkey off my back.”
It may be a new year for the Knights, but there will be plenty of familiar names in the lineup when the 2016 season begins Thursday on the road against the Durham Bulls.
At least 11 players were on Charlotte’s roster at one time or another last season, and a 12th – outfielder Travis Ishikawa, who spent time in the majors with San Francisco and Pittsburgh last year – played for the Knights in 2013.
In addition to Davidson, back on Charlotte’s opening day roster are pitchers Erik Johnson – last year’s IL pitcher of the year – Scott Carroll, Chris Beck, Terance Marin, Blake Smith and Daniel Webb; catcher Kevan Smith; infielder Carlos Sanchez; and outfielders Leury Garcia and Jason Coats.
Carroll gets opener start
Carroll, who split time between the Knights and White Sox the past two seasons, will be the starting pitcher for Charlotte on Thursday.
Carroll, a right-hander, went 7-4 in 16 starts last season for the Knights, with a 3.47 ERA and 45 strikeouts in 83 innings pitched. He also went 1-1 in 18 appearances with the White Sox, with a 3.44 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 36 2/3 innings.
The rest of Charlotte’s starting rotation for the Durham series will have right-hander Johnson pitching Friday’s game, right-hander Beck on Saturday and right-hander Jacob Turner – who played with the Chicago Cubs’ Class AA team in Knoxville, Tenn., last year – will go in the final game of the series Sunday.