Before the 2008 season, Baseball America named Wade Davis the 17th-best prospect in all of baseball. Then in 2009, Davis resurfaced on the list as number 32, and in 2010 he reappeared as number 34. Davis, another pick in that 2004 draft that netted the Rays current sleepers Jake McGee and Reid Brignac, finished his minor league career in 2009, leaving behind a 3.28 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 8.7 K/9, and 3.3 BB/9 to his name in 767 innings, before getting a partial season in 2009 and his first full season in 2010.
Perhaps because his 2010 started out slow and was interrupted by a short DL stint for shoulder soreness, most of the hype around Davis has worn off, mostly for no good reason other than the fact that the hype and hoopla has moved on to his teammate Jeremy Hellickson, who may have an even brighter future ahead than Davis. But still, don't forget about Davis, as the 24-year old still has some progression to make and he should evolve into a better-than-average big league pitcher. Davis finished 2010 with a 12-10, 4.07 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, and 6.1 K/9 stat line, not bad at all considering he was a rookie pitching in the unforgiving AL East.
Most encouraging of all signs is that Davis improved substantially as the season went along. In the first half of the season, Davis pitched to a 4.69 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, and 5.9 K/9. After the All-Star Break, Davis caught fire and posted a 3.28 ERA with a 1.12 WHIP and 6.2 K/9. In this stretch, Davis compiled a 6-1 win-loss record, and his success was a major reason why the Rays were able to capture a playoff spot despite the injury-depleted Red Sox hanging strong in the playoff race until late August.
After the trade of Matt Garza to Chicago, Davis doesn't have to worry about being pushed out of the rotation by graduated prospect Jeremy Hellickson if he sputters out of the gate, so if he doesn't pick up where he left off right away this spring, don't give up hope. The Rays will most likely give him every chance to succeed, which includes being patient if it takes time to work out any kinks in his game. Right now the biggest qualm with Davis is that his strikeout numbers haven't translated to the majors, but in his credit it is not easy to sustain K/9 numbers in double digit range, especially as a starting pitcher. Given time, he should be able to rack up more strikeouts as he has a hard, heavy fastball that he complements beautifully with a plus curve. With more time to improve and get his handle on opposing hitters, the strikeouts will come, so don't get too hung up over his low strikeout numbers to this point.
Like his other teammates I've wrote about to this point, his 235 ADP makes him a really cheap investment, and keeping his promising untapped potential in mind, his production will probably justify the late draft pick and make him a bargain, in which you can pay just pennies on the dollar for what similar pitchers like Johnny Cueto (ADP: 184) and Phil Hughes (ADP: 150) are going for. For position players, usually the benchmark for a sleeper is reaching top 20, but because starting pitching is such a deep position this is most likely out of the question. But for Davis, becoming a top 50, maybe top 45 starter this year or in 2012 isn't out of the question.
2011 projected stats: 13-9, 3.90 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 137 K