With many of baseball's 29 other organizations sending power pitchers and five-tool position players to the All-Star Futures Game on Sunday in Cincinnati, the Orioles' representative, 22-year-old right-hander Zach Davies, has something manager Buck Showalter says you can't teach: "a good hand."
"Zach, he's a pitcher," Showalter said. "When [his pitches] are all there, he can make it look easy. … He can manipulate the baseball, and he's got a feel for pitching. He's one of those guys who plays at this level because he can locate his fastball and he's got ways to get left-handed hitters out."
The 6-foot, 150-pound Davies will play for the U.S. team in today's showcase game, an achievement for a pitcher selected in the 26th round of the 2011 draft who lacks the traditional size and velocity that many of his teammates today possess.
What has allowed Davies to post a 2.70 ERA in 16 games (15 starts) for Triple-A Norfolk this year — and what will silence any doubts you might have by looking at him — is that hand, and the three-pitch mix he manipulates with it.
Showalter told of a spring training game this year against the Tampa Bay Rays in Port Charlotte, Fla., in which the Rays dugout looked perplexed to see Davies on the mound.
"You see their dugout go, 'Who is this? Is this the batboy?'" Showalter said. "And after about seven or eight pitches, they went, 'Hmm, OK. I got it.' He ain't scared."
Said Tides pitching coach Mike Griffin: "Zach believes in himself. He's a very confident young man on the mound. He never lets the game speed up on him, and that's a big strength for Zach. If you walked into the middle of a ballgame in the fifth inning and walked into the ballpark here at Harbor Park and didn't look at the scoreboard, you wouldn't know if Zach was winning or losing just because his mound presence is exceptional."
More often than not, Davies is pitching well enough that he has to hide a smile.
In his debut season for Low-A Delmarva in 2012, he posted a 3.86 ERA and struck out 91 batters with 46 walks in 114 1/3 innings (7.2 strikeouts per nine innings). In each of the next two full seasons — which took him to High-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie — Davies lowered his ERA and increased his strikeout rate.
In 2013 with the Keys, a 20-year-old Davies was 7-9 with a 3.69 ERA and 132 strikeouts in 148 2/3 innings (8.0 strikeouts per nine). Last year for Bowie, Davies was 10-7 with a 3.35 ERA and 109 strikeouts in 110 innings (8.9 strikeouts per nine).
He has been young for his level at every step through the minors, and his fastball tops out at 92 mph, but Griffin said Davies has been so successful at every stop for two reasons.
"No. 1, Zach is very well dialed into and tuned into his own delivery," Griffin said. "He has a three-pitch mix — fastball, curveball, changeup that are above-average, especially when he can locate his fastball. … His curveball has depth. It has bite, and his changeup has been a very good pitch for him here in Norfolk. It's a swing-and-miss pitch."
Griffin said there's still work to be done on Davies' fastball command. But Griffin has seen plenty of improvement there.
"When you can use all four quadrants of the plate and also have the command of the four quadrants, and then use his secondary pitches — his curveball and his changeup — it makes a very good three-pitch mix that he has had success so far doing," Griffin said.
The right-hander follows in the footsteps of pitchers Dylan Bundy (2012), Eduardo Rodriguez (2013) and Hunter Harvey (2014) as Orioles' Futures Game participants. Recent positions players to play in the showcase game include Cuban outfielders Dariel Alvarez (2014) and Henry Urrutia (2013), while third baseman Manny Machado played with Bundy in 2012.
With a host of pitchers who need to get into the game, longevity in Sunday's game isn't part of the conversation. But Griffin said being pitch-efficient and going deeper in games is Davies' primary task in Norfolk after the All-Star break.
His final start before the break showed that was possible. Davies threw his first career complete game, striking out three and allowing two runs on four hits in eight innings for a 2-0 loss to Durham on July 6.
"He's well deserved of the accolades that he's getting by going to the Futures Game," Griffin said. "For him to represent our organization in the Futures Game is huge for the organization, and also huge for Zach. He's done so well."