The Cubs organization includes top 100 MLB prospects Nico Hoerner, Miguel Amaya, and Brailyn Marquez, but it’s Brennen Davis who is considered by many to be the top prospect in the entire system. Winner of the Cubs Minor League Player of the Year award in 2019, Davis jumped to the top of list despite playing just 50 total games at low-A South Bend.
A 2018 second round draft pick out of Basha High School in Chandler, Arizona, Davis was still a teenager when he began playing full-season ball last season. That was also the first year in which he’d focused on baseball after splitting his time with basketball as a prep player. Davis did it all last year and now leads the next wave of talent making its way Chicago, but we still aren’t talking about how incredible his 2019 campaign truly was.
Since 2010, the Cubs system has seen a total of 526 seasons of at least 50 games played by players above rookie ball. With all due respect to guys like Rebel Ridling and Rock Shoulders, the period from 2010-19 saw the Cubs sporting one of the strongest farm systems in the history of Major League Baseball. That’s when Kris Bryant, Javier Báez, Willson Contreras, Gleyber Torres, and Eloy Jimenez called the system home.
Davis stacks up pretty well against all of them when you dig into just about any hitting statistic, so let’s do just that.
To all the old-school cats out there that are into batting average, Davis checks a big box. His .305 average ranked in the 90th percentile of the period in question, with only 53 individual seasons boasting higher numbers. He was also the third-youngest player to put up a batting average of at least .305, behind only Báez (.333 in 2012) and Jimenez (.329 in 2016).
Propped up by his elite batting average and a pretty decent walk rate, Davis’s .381 OBP puts him in the 89th percentile among his peers. He was the youngest to put up an on-base percentage that high since Javy posted a .383 in 2012.
We have reached the power department, a category in which Davis really takes off. His .525 slugging percentage last season was good enough for the 95th percentile, with only 27 higher marks over the last decade. Anyone want to guess the one player who was younger with a better slugging season? Yep, Javy had a .596 during that 2012 season.
As you’ve probably deduced from the numbers above, Davis’s .907 OPS stands out quite well. He’s again in the 95th percentile and again younger than everyone but the two other names we’ve seen already.
Davis cracked the 93rd percentile with a .220 ISO, a stat that measures raw power by essentially illustrating how many extra bases a hitter generates with each at-bat. Only 35 sluggers ISO’d more than Davis, and only Javy did it better at a younger age.
If you aren’t familiar with this stat, it is basically the all-encompassing statistic for a player’s offensive output. It takes the offensive numbers a player puts up, adjusts them to account for the league and ballpark factors, then spits out a statistic in which 100 represents league average. A 110 wRC+ would mean a player was 10% better than league average, while a 60 wRC+ would mean a hitter is 40% worse than league average, or basically Addison Russell.
Davis posted a 160 wRC+ in 2019, good for the 13th best the Cubs system has seen since 2010. That puts him in the 98th percentile of all hitters over the decade and ranks as the best the farm has seen overall since Contreras charted a 175 wRC+ for Iowa in 2016. Even if we go back as far as 2006, Davis is still one of only three teens to post a wRC+ this high, alongside…well, you already know the other two by now.
These numbers are very impressive when viewed individually, but how about we put them all together and look at Davis as a well-rounded player. How do we do that? Coaches, GMs, and fans look for players that incorporate three traits into their plate appearances: The ability to hit for average, the strength to hit for power, and the right mindset for an advanced approach. With that in mind, I looked for players with all three of those skills to see who best produced the trifecta.
Specifically, I looked for a swinging strike percentage of less than 12%, ISO of greater than .200, BB% greater than 8%, and K% less than 20%. Only 16 players out of the 526 individual seasons since 2010 met all of those criteria, putting Davis on a list of some very impressive names that includes Contreras, Anthony Rizzo, and Dan Vogelbach.
Not only did Davis meet criteria that only 3% of Cubs players have met in the last 10 years, but he was easily the youngest to do so. He was able to compile those statistics during his age-19 season, while the next youngest players were Rizzo, Jeimer Candelario, and Michael Cruz, all of whom were in their respective age-22 seasons.
I could go on and on about how good Davis was in 2019, citing statistics or talking about how watching his batting practice is like nothing I have ever seen before. I could marvel at his athleticism and wonder how much better he can actually be with more experience and continued focus on baseball. But for now, I’m just going to look forward to the next time we can all watch him play again rather than just discussing last season.