MESA, Ariz. — At this time last year, Brennen Davis could’ve easily envision a scenario in which he would make his big league debut with the Chicago Cubs in 2022.
He was the team’s top prospect at that point, after all, and he had finished the 2021 season — after moving from High-A South Bend to Double-A Tennessee to Triple-A Iowa during the year — with a .933 OPS in 16 games with Iowa. All he needed was a bit more seasoning at the Triple-A level, and once he proved that he had nothing left to prove in the minors, a call to the big leagues would surely come.
Instead, spring training 2023 has already begun, and he’s still playing the waiting game.
Of course, that’s not really his fault. The early part of his 2022 season was spent dealing with back issues that sidelined him after May 3 and led to back surgery a month later after the discovery of a vascular malformation. He managed to return (with the Cubs’ Arizona Complex League affiliate) on Aug. 15, but a big league debut was no longer in the cards that season.
“Injuries teach you the fragility of the sport,” Davis said Friday at Sloan Park. “It can be taken away from you at any time. It really made me appreciate the game and the gifts I’ve been given. It gives you a different outlook on life, when you’re sitting at home watching all your buddies play the sport you love, and you just want to get back out there and compete.”
As far as a call-up goes, this is another important spring for Davis. Right now, he feels “100 percent and ready to roll.” He said he has no restrictions on what he can do during camp. He’s also at his heaviest (he estimated between 215-218 pounds), but he’s still putting up the speed numbers he wants.
He’s attacking camp with the mindset that he’s trying to earn an active roster spot when the Cubs break camp. And even if Opening Day isn’t in the cards, he’s going to keep himself ready for anything.
“I’m not out here not to make a team,” Davis said. “I’m out here to compete and give them a tough choice to make at the end of spring. That’s all I can do, and I know when my time is called, I’m going to be ready, whether that’s now or in a month or two months or whatever. I’m going to do whatever I can to be the best version of myself.”
Well, what exactly does the best version of himself look like?
“It’s pretty good,” he said with a smile.
For now, he’s going to keep a patient approach.
That’s something he got very used as he went through the challenges of 2022. Following the surgery, he had to wait before he could even join the ACL Cubs (and later South Bend) for rehab games before rejoining Iowa at the end of August. And though he was excited to play in the Arizona Fall League to make up some of his lost at-bats, a stress reaction forced him to play it safe and shut things down early.
A trying year obviously brought frustration with it. Learning how to deal with that and remain patient helped get him through it.
“Everybody gets a little anxious, but it’s about being where your feet are and playing well wherever you are,” Davis said. “That’s something I live by, and I’m going to continue to do that.”
With the opportunity in front of him this spring, Davis is looking to take it and run with it. He’s working with the Cubs’ established outfielders every day, picking their brains and learning how they approach the game. It’s one of those aspects of spring camp that he is taking advantage of.
“I think it’s invaluable,” Davis said about his experience working with the major leaguers. “Being able to just hit with guys that had Silver Sluggers and done it and won World Series. It’s awesome being around those guys and seeing how they work. I think I do a good job, and they just do a little bit better job. Being able to take little tips here and there is just going to make me a better player.”
The Cubs certainly have faith that it will all pay off.
Davis is still a top-100 prospect according to most rankings. He was just added to the 40-man roster in November to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. The Cubs believe he has a bright future ahead of him, because they know the type of player he can be when he’s able to stay on the field.
“When he’s done that, he’s been really, really good,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “I know he feels really good. Just let him get the at-bats, continue to get that seasoning and try to help us in some way this year.”
It remains to be seen when his health and performance will lead to his debut. But even if the front office hasn’t directly laid out a timeline, he’s confident he’ll have a role on the Cubs before long.
“I think it’s an expectation for everybody that I can help contribute this year,” Davis said.