Davis Daniel faced a tough decision last summer. He could pursue his MLB dreams and accept an offer from the Milwaukee Brewers or he could return to Auburn and try to improve upon his 11th round draft spot. He bet on himself and returned to school.
Unfortunately for Daniel, he injured his elbow in the season opener and ultimately required Tommy John surgery. He did not pitch in 2019.
Angels GM Billy Eppler and his staff had seen enough, however, and drafted Auburn junior and sent him to the team’s facility in Tempe to rehab and get ready for his professional career. You can follow him on his path to the majors on twitter.
Daniel was nice enough to give me a call from Tempe. I found him to be very polite and personable, driven to compete for the sheer love of competition not by ego. Here’s a transcript of that call:
Looking at your bio, you were born in Georgia but your hometown is listed as Montgomery. When did you move from Atlanta to Alabama?
“When I was in second grade.”
I know that college ties run deep in the South. Did you grow up a Georgia fan, Auburn fan, Bama fan?
“My dad when to UNC Chapel Hill so I grew up a North Carolina fan. And then my older brother went to Alabama and then I went to Auburn.
We didn’t necessarily have any ties to either its just he went there for school and it worked out for me to come to Auburn. So now when it comes football season we’re not big fans of each other.”
That must make for some pretty interesting Thanksgiving table talk.
I know in that state that rivalry runs deep. People root for one or the other. Does the rivalry transfer over the baseball as well?
“Yeah, absolutely. I think especially now that the recruiting coordinator who recruited me to Auburn is now the head coach at Alabama, I think there’s a little added extra to that rivalry and its been fun the last couple of years.”
After your sophomore year you were drafted by the Brewers but you decided to come back for one last year at Auburn. Why was that?
“Just the way I finished the year last year was really strong. I think I kind of struggled the first two years and started to show who I really was, figuring out what kind of pitcher I was. I’d figured out my stuff pretty well and I felt like I could go into my junior season with a little chip on my shoulder and a couple extra experiences to go along with it.
I felt like I was poised for a strong junior year which would improve my draft spot so we decided to come back for my junior year.”
One thing I’m always curious about the decision to go to college. Were you scouted and did you have a chance to go pro straight out of high school?
“Yes, I was drafted by the Cubs out of high school. But when it came down to it, just weighing the options, the opportunity to go play for Butch Thompson and the SEC.
Nowadays players develop so much in the SEC you’re not missing too much. The level of competition is up there with some of the lower minor leagues.
So I think the opportunities and the experiences. Playing in front of some of those crowds, its unlike any other place in the country.
So I feel like it was a pretty easy decision for me to go to college out of high school.”
Then you come into your junior year with some momentum looking to improve your draft stock and then you get hurt. Were you still pretty positive about getting drafted? Were you still hearing from teams at that point?
“Yes. I went down opening day this year and kind of from the minute it happened it we got some phone calls from a few different teams saying ‘no matter what happens you’re still going to be on our radar.’ So at that point I was a little more optimistic going through it knowing that I could just rehab and do my work and that hopefully I’d still have an opportunity come June.”
And I have to assume the Angels are one of those clubs that called you.
“Yeah. We had kind of heard from them a couple times. They were kind of low on the radar and then come draft day it picked up and it all worked out.”
We also drafted a couple of other guys out of the SEC, out of Tennessee. Do you know Garrett Stallings or Zach Linginfelter?
“Yes. I played summer ball with Linginfelter so I know him pretty well. I didn’t know Garrett Stallings other than just competing against each other but now that we’re all out here in Arizona we’ve gotten to know each other, hanging out. And we’ve had some friendly conversation talking about some rivalries and stuff like that. So its been a good time.”
And what do they have you working on in Tempe right now?
“Right now its just rehabbing and working out. Getting after it in the weight room and trying to get my arm stronger and get back healthy.”
Are you studying your bio-mechanics so hopefully this doesn’t happen again?
“Yes. Nowadays, with just the way the body works and how hard people are throwing its bound to happen to so many guys. And now its just about getting healthy and working hard and making sure my body’s in shape to get started again come time to throw.”
Have you done any fun things in Arizona? Do you like golf, hike, what do you like to do away from the complex?
“I’ve done a couple things, not much. Hopefully once I get healthy enough I’d like to play some golf. I want to hit up some of these courses. There are some nice, nice courses out here.
Unfortunately I’m not healthy enough to play yet. Hopefully in a few months I’ll be able to get the clubs out here and play a few rounds.”
Is the plan for you to get healthy this year, show up to Spring Training next year, then take your career from there?
“I think it will be a little more postponed than Spring Training. I’ll still be in my throwing program come Spring Training and hopefully I’ll be back on the mound and back in game action about this time next year.”
Ok. And are they going to keep you out in Tempe pretty much that whole time?
“I would assume so, yeah.”
What would say is your best pitch?
“Four seam fastball, its got a pretty good spin rate on it, and I’d follow that up with my curve ball is my out pitch.”
Are they giving you spin rates down in college now?
“Yeah, every SEC park now has Trackman in it so every game we pitch we have a profile so we can look at all that stuff.
At Auburn we actually have a video coordinator. His job is basically to get all those numbers, put them in spreadsheet form, sit down with any of us that want to learn more. So we’ve got some good resources at Auburn to work with all that stuff.”
Wow, so you really have been in A ball just with better living conditions the last three years.
“[chuckles] Yes, sir.”
In general, what do you like to do when you’re away from the ballpark?
“Video games and golf. I’ll fish every now and then. Mostly any kind of competition. Whether it is a simple as a card game, pickup hoops, whatever it is I’m always down for a little competition.”
What do you shoot on the links?
“If I went out there today I’d probably shoot 85-90 but if you give me a couple rounds I can probably get down to 78-80.”
And the one question we ask everybody. Have you eaten at Five Guys with Fries?
Have you tried In-N-Out Burger since you’ve been out West?
“I have not. I tried to go yesterday but they don’t Uber Eats.”
We always ask which one is better and the answer usually comes down to which coast you grew up on.
“Five Guys is hard to beat.”
Yeah, Five Guys is tough to beat unless you grew up in California
“[Laughs] I got ya.”
Is there any one thing you want people to know about you as they follow you on your way up the ladder?
“Not really. I guess that I’m a hard nosed competitor. I love to compete. I’m going to give it everything I got every outing and I’m not going to leave anything on the table when I’m out there on the mound.”
We can definitely respect. Thanks so much for the call, I appreciate your time.
Any questions or comments for Davis Daniel, please leave below. Or maybe just say hi. He’ll get a link. And for those who want to follow his journey, his Twitter account is @davis_daniel13 and linked above.