Davidson ready to make mark with Sox

December, 26, 2013
12/26/13
11:00
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
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YUCAIPA, Calif. -- The new year is coming quickly, although probably not fast enough for new Chicago White Sox third baseman Matt Davidson, who just wants to be able to catch his breath sometime soon.

Major life changes have been whizzing by at line-drive speed for the former 35th overall selection in the 2009 draft, who was traded to the White Sox on Dec. 16 in exchange for closer Addison Reed.

[+] EnlargeMatt Davidson
Doug Padilla/ESPNChicago.comNew White Sox third baseman Matt Davidson, who won the Futures Game MVP and the Triple-A home run contest this past summer, gives instruction at his youth baseball camp in Yucaipa, Calif.
The fact that he was traded for a proven major league commodity makes Davidson's head spin, but when looking back at the last six months of 2013, it was just another chapter in a book that has been filling up quickly.

"I just want to be on the field now," Davidson said recently while standing on the same Yucaipa High School infield where he earned a supplemental-round draft selection by the Arizona Diamondbacks 4 1/2 years ago. "I just want to wake up, go work out, go play, go home and relax. I'm really looking forward to that."

Davidson's latest adventure was a youth baseball camp at his former high school that provided its own undue stress. And it wasn't just a camp where Davidson was a guest instructor, the two days worth of pitching, hitting and fielding tips was dreamed up entirely by the 22-year-old.

From now until New Year's Eve, Davidson expects the year to close out on a more casual note, but you never can tell. His whirlwind half of a year actually started this past summer when he was named to the Futures Game, the annual all-star contest for promising prospects split among teams from the United States and the rest of the world.

During the July 14 game, Davidson hit a two-run home run to center field in the fourth inning at New York's Citi Field and went on to win the MVP award in the United States' 4-2 victory. He then flew across the country and won the Triple-A All-Star home run derby a day later in Reno, Nev.

His emotional high could have sustained him perhaps for the remainder of the season until sad news struck.

"A couple of days later, my grandfather passed away and basically he's the reason I started to play baseball," Davidson said. "That really sucked. I was up and down the rest of the season like that, just mentally. And then I get engaged and then I get called up [for his major league debut]. Now the [youth] camp and getting married and traded. So the last six, seven months have been unreal."

Heading to a new team should only multiply the stress. The Opening Day spot at third base figures to be Davidson's to lose, with a poor spring showing potentially sending him back in Triple-A to start the season.

But after what he's been through, getting to learn new faces, with a new hitting coach, while heading to a new league and proving he has as much, if not more, value than Reed, won't be the burden that some might believe it to be.

"It's going to be relaxing," he said of camp in Glendale, Ariz. Davidson plans to arrive well in advance of the Feb. 17 reporting date for position players.

"After Jan. 25 when we go to spring, it's going to be relaxed," he said. "It's going to be the least stressful thing so I am really looking forward to getting out there."

By no means is Davidson a slam-dunk decision at third base. The trip to Triple-A Charlotte could be waiting for him.

While the White Sox have moved pitchers like Chris Sale and Reed to the major leagues quickly, they have shown in the recent past that they have no qualms about having their position player prospects stay in the minor leagues for more seasoning.

Conor Gillaspie and Jeff Keppinger remain options at third base to start the 2014 season, as the White Sox still need to do more analysis of their revamped roster.

[+] EnlargeMatt Davidson
Doug Padilla/ESPNChicago.comMatt Davidson saw his whirlwind half year come to a close this past weekend by holding his own youth baseball camp in his hometown of Yucaipa, Calif.
"I look at it like I want to be the best payer I can," Davidson said. "If I have to go to Triple-A and work on it, I will. I don't want to compare myself to any other third baseman or this and that, I want to become Matt Davidson. I want to do what I can for myself and work on my game. I just don't want to start the year and be happy with that. I want to be a third baseman for a long time so whatever that takes that's fine. Wherever I can learn the best and improve the most, that's the road I want to go on."

He obviously isn't afraid of the road less traveled. A former pitcher, who had too much potential as a hitter to let his offense go to waste, Davidson is still learning all the nuances of third base. While left field or first base remains an option for him down the road if he fails to turn into a serviceable defender, Davidson says he is committed to making third base work.

That commitment to third wasn't always there as he already has done some growing up since being drafted.

"The first couple of years I didn't take pride in my defense at third," Davidson admitted. "I wasn't excited to go over and take ground balls, it was more of a job. Now it's more like a hobby where I do enjoy it and that's what is making me improve even more."

His youth baseball camp is another sign of his maturity. Both of Davidson's parents are self-employed and he considers the camp a sign of his entrepreneurial genes.

Players from the area of his hometown who were involved included Colorado Rockies pitcher Tyler Chatwood, Miami Marlins outfield prospect Jake Marisnick, Houston Astros catching prospect Jacob Nottingham, San Diego Padres pitching prospect Matt Andriese, Marlins catching prospect Kyle Skipworth and Astros shortstop prospect Jiovanni Mier.

"I think my parents have always inspired an entrepreneur thing in me," Davidson said. "I see my dad and really look up to him in that way. I put on the camp and it ended up being a lot more work than I thought it would be. I'm pulling everything together. Let's just say it's a lot easier to show up."

Among the fires Davidson was putting out after instruction began was finding out that the main lunch volunteer had backed out at the last minute. He was able to scramble together some people to buy sandwiches just as the lunch break began.

Youth camps like Davidson's don't exist in his town of Yucapia, which sits an hour east of Los Angeles and an hour west of Palm Springs at the base of the San Bernardino Mountains.

Davidson is actually part of a long line of pro players to come out of Yucaipa, which makes the lack of youth camps an odd reality. The list includes former White Sox players Corky Miller and Mark Teahen, as well as White Sox pitching prospect Scott Snodgress. Others to hail from the high school include the Mariners' Taijuan Walker and the Indians' Matt Carson.

"Everybody takes pride in their baseball; that's the sport out here," Davidson said about his one Little League hometown. "I really don't know why it's a hotbed because it's a 50,000-person city and we have almost 10 guys that have been in pro ball just from one high school. You really don't find that, especially kind of in the middle of nowhere. It's not like it's at the beach or a big city. I really can't explain any of that, but it's really cool to be a part of Yucaipa."

That pride is so important to Davidson that he is trying to pass it on to the next generation of players. Thus, the baseball camp was born.

Just as his camp was about to start, Davidson gathered all of the pro players involved for some last-minute instruction. He then gathered the campers, who ranged in age from 8 to 18, for a little inspiration. Then it was off to the batting cage for instruction before solving that lunch snafu.

Sure the White Sox might be getting a power hitter who strikes out a lot, but it's clear Davidson possesses an attention to detail that will be key in overcoming whatever shortcomings he might have.

"I just want to do the best I can and be the best person I can," he said. "In the end, I know I work as hard as I can and that's good enough for me."

Doug Padilla

Chicago White Sox beat reporter
Doug joined ESPN Chicago in July 2010 and covers the Chicago White Sox for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN Radio 1000.

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RBIJ. Abreu 74
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