When Zach Davies was drafted by the Orioles in 2011, probably not too many people save for the most avid of prospectors took notice. After all, fourth pick in the 26th round of the amateur draft hardly screams organizational cornerstone, but the Orioles must have felt pretty good about their pick as they offered the righthanded high schooler from Chandler, AZ a $575,000 signing bonus. In the 2011 edition of the Orioles draft, only first rounder Dylan Bundy and second rounder Jason Esposito were offered higher signing bonuses. Davies is also a protege of former Orioles lefty starter Eric Bell and is compared to Arizona State product Mike Leake. Perhaps not so coincidentally, Davies decided to forgo a commitment to Arizona State in order to sign with the O's.
Davies had finished the previous two seasons in the top ten for ERA in the Sally League and Carolina League, but didn't crack the top 10s of any prospect lists last year (ranked 12 by John Sickels, ranked 11 by Fangraphs also ranked twelfth best player in organization under 25 by Baseball America). That should change in 2015. There weren't too many 21 year old starters in the Eastern League during the 2014 season, but among those (including Red Sox duo Henry Owens and former teammate Eduardo Rodriguez) and even among his older peers, Davies held his own in strikeout rate (8.92 K/9, tied for second), walk rate (2.62 BB/9 top 20) and FIP (3.30, seventh). Davies also earned Eastern League pitcher of the week honors in April and August. In June, Davies went 19 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run. For those three starts, Davies was credited with Game Scores of 69, 77 and 77.
Davies spent some time on the disabled list in 2014. Could health be an issue going forward? Questions of durability often accompany discussion of a pitcher's physical makeup and Davies is notable for his somewhat diminutive stature (listed perhaps charitably at 6'0", 150). Smaller righties like Leake and Tim Lincecum have had quite a bit of success and been relatively durable, and if, somehow, the O's ended up with a Pedro Martinez or Greg Maddux, I'm sure they wouldn't complain. The prospect writers noted above, however, look at Davies as a likely back end rotation guy with a possible mid-rotation ceiling.
Davies seems likely to earn his bones as a pitcher's pitcher. A word often tossed around in discussing Davies is "pitchability" and he receives plaudits for his control (ranked best in the O's system per Baseball America link above) and command. His fastball sits high 80s-low 90s, but the 22 year old could add a tick or two as he develops. His true calling card, however, is his changeup. It's amazing how seemingly consistent game reports have been through the years...
2011 (senior year):
Ron Brenham of Arizona Diamond Report said of Davis "It was the same Davies we've grown accustomed to seeing.He sat 90-91 early and had command of 4 pitches, including a high 70s breaking ball that at times is a knee buckler. He was still working at 88 in the 7th.He's a strike throwing machine with great mound presence and poise." from PerfectGame.com
His 4-seam and 2-seam fastball were commanded well the entire night, often spotting them on the outside corners. The Change was extremely effective tonight, as he was able to record both his strikeouts on them and I recorded 10 swings-and-misses on the 19 he threw. from baltimoresportsandlife.com
Davies will represent the O's as a member of the Surprise Saguaros during the Arizona Fall League and is eligible for the next Rule 5 draft.