Brewers newcomer Jonathan Davis in big leagues because of defense – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

While Jonathan Davis might be a mystery to some, teammate Rowdy Tellez is plenty familiar with the Milwaukee Brewers’ recent call-up from Class AAA Nashville.

“We were drafted together,” Tellez recounted this week.

Tellez was selected out of high school in the 30th round in 2013 while Davis was taken in the 15th round out of the University of Central Arkansas by the Toronto Blue Jays, the Brewers’ interleague opponent this weekend at American Family Field.

“When I lived in Florida and would drive to Texas for hunting, I would stay at J.D.’s house in Mississippi. He was my halfway point,” Tellez said. “So, you could say I know him pretty well.”

And how would Tellez describe the 30-year-old center fielder?

“He’s genuinely one of the best people I know,” he said. “One of the most humble, hard-working people that I’ve ever met. A guy who would give you the shirt off his back twice just to make sure you’re OK. Great teammate.

“And when he got called up, I was telling everybody he’s probably the best center fielder I’ve ever played with. I’ve seen that guy lay out head-first through a wall.

“Like, head-first into the center-field wall, backwards.”

The play occurred back in 2015, when Tellez and Davis were teammates at advanced Class A Dunedin, in the Florida State League.

And Davis indeed made the catch.

“Oh, yeah. That’s what was crazy,” Tellez said, shaking his head. “They had the ambulance and all that. I thought he died. I was standing at first base like this (hands on his head). Caught the ball.

“He’s a pitcher’s best friend. If he’s out there in center, not much is dropping. And if it is, it wasn’t supposed to be caught anyway.

“He’s really, really good. Elite.”

Asked about Tellez’s recollection, Davis laughed and confirmed it was pretty much on the money.

And somehow, he wasn’t diagnosed with a concussion in the aftermath.

“I was out for a minute. I ended up walking off on my own, thankfully,” Davis said. “But yeah, it was stupid. Young J.D., just going after everything. And we were down by, like, eight runs at the time. Line drive and I just went ahead and dove into the fence.

“I ended up making the catch, but I definitely learned over time you have to know when to do that.”

Davis’ opportunity arrives as Cain departs

Davis was recalled last Saturday as the corresponding move when fan favorite and 2019 Rawlings Gold Glover Lorenzo Cain was designated for assignment.

It’s his third stint in the major leagues with his third different team.

He logged 122 games from 2018-21 with Toronto and 12 more with the New York Yankees last season after being claimed off waivers before signing a minor-league deal with the Brewers in November that included an invitation to major-league camp.

Davis arrived in Phoenix well aware of his place in the pecking order and then went hitless in eight Cactus League games before being reassigned to minor-league camp.

Had things gone according to plan for the Brewers, Cain would have had one final productive season and ridden off into the sunset.

But in a stroke of luck for Davis, things didn’t turn out that way.

More: ‘Everything feels good, I’m healthy’: Brewers pitcher Brandon Woodruff confident after rehab start with Timber Rattlers

More: After the Brewers and Cardinals split yet another series, get ready for a tight NL Central race until the end

And he did his part in the meantime, hitting .297 with three home runs and 18 runs batted in with an .834 OPS and 11 stolen bases in 12 tries for a Sounds team that has now sent 12 players and counting who opened the season in the minors to the Brewers in 2022.

“Going into spring training, I really wanted to prepare myself for the season, try to get off to a good start regardless of where I was at, and to win,” Davis said. “That was our goal in Nashville, too. If we win, everybody benefits from that.

“They’ve got a good staff down there, hitting coach (Al LeBoeuf) had been working with me in the cage just on being ready to hit and not thinking too much and just staying on the inside part of the baseball.

“I had a pretty good start to my season, and I’m here.”

Davis was appreciative of a gift he received from the welcome wagon after arriving in Milwaukee.

“Kolten (Wong) gave me some cleats because all of mine are kind of run down from being in the trenches,” he said.

At 5-foot-8 and 190 pounds, Davis is built more like a football running back or cornerback.

But, as manager Craig Counsell likes to point out, baseball is a game that welcomes all shapes and sizes.

So, as long as Davis can go and get the ball in center and come up with the occasional base hit, there figures to be a place for him.

“That’s what got him to the big leagues, is his defense,” Counsell said. “Very good in center field. That’s why he’s here.”

Backup center fielder is clearly defined role

Davis made his second start in Thursday’s 6-4 win over the St. Louis Cardinals and collected his third hit.

His role has been, and will continue to be, as the backup to Tyrone Taylor in center.

“There’s no labels on this stuff, but that’s what’s happening,” Counsell said. “I think you’ll see Tyrone move around a little bit more (to the corners) and when J.D.’s in the game, he’s going to play center field.”

Including his time with the Brewers, the native of Camden, Arkansas, has slashed .178/4/16/.530 in 230 career at-bats in the majors. In 2,300 at-bats in the minors, his line is .259/55/264/.776 – a decent body of work for nine seasons.

“For me, I think it’s been a slower transition into being a big-leaguer,” he said. “Even being here now, kind of knowing the role I can see myself playing, I don’t know exactly what that is. But I know we’ve got guys who can play every day and I can fill in a role and pinch-hit or play center here and there.

“Going from playing in Triple-A every day to the big leagues and having to spot start and come into the games, the journey that I’ve been on has kind of prepared me for this. That’s what I’m really thankful for – now I know how to go about it.

“When I first came up I was like, ‘How do I face a guy throwing 97 when I haven’t played in three days?’ Or, just coming off the bench, how do I get prepared to go into a game and steal a base. It’s learning your own routine. And that’s what I’m thankful for.

“I’m always working to do better, of course, but right here, right now, I’m here. And it’s cool.”

Tellez, his longtime buddy and teammate, thinks it’s cool, too.

“He’s going to do whatever it takes to help the team win,” he said. “Whatever you need from him, he’s going to say yes, never say no. He’s a guy you want in the clubhouse. A guy who’s going to be in baseball for a long time because of how good a person and teammate he is.

“When you look at the big picture, he’s never had a true chance. I think the hardest thing to do is excel when you don’t play every day or very often. But he’s adapted to his role and I think one day somebody will give him a chance and he will be a really good center fielder.”

THANK YOU: Subscribers’ support makes this work possible. Help us share the knowledge by buying a gift subscription.