Rajai Lavae Davis
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 5' 11", Weight 195 lb.
- School University of Connecticut at Avery Point
- High School New London High School
- Debut August 16, 2006
A basketball, baseball and football player in high school, Rajai Davis focused on baseball in college. A well-rounded athlete whose biggest asset is his speed, he was drafted in the 38th round of the 2001 amateur draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Davis was signed by scout Charlie Sullivan and made his pro debut that summer. Originally a second baseman out of school, he was converted to the outfield. He hit .262/.364/.274 for the GCL Pirates that year with 11 steals in 14 tries. He also went 1 for 12 with two walks for the Williamsport Crosscutters. In 2002, Rajai returned to the lowest level, going at a .384/.436/.554 clip for the GCL Pirates with 24 steals in 30 tries. He was 0 for 4 with Williamsport and 6 for 14 with 6 walks for the Hickory Crawdads. An off-year may have knocked him out of baseball but instead he dominated that season. Davis led the Gulf Coast League in batting average, OBP, hits (86), at-bats (224), total bases (124) and extra-base hits (25, tied for the lead with Joey Votto). He was one point behind the slugging leader, Hanley Ramirez. He made the GCL All-Star team, but at 21 was old for the level and did not make Baseball America's list of the league's top 20 prospects. The league did not pick an MVP but Topps named him the GCL Player of the Year.
In 2003, Rajai batted .305/.383/.416 for Hickory, stealing 40 in 53 tries and scoring 84 runs. He was seventh in the South Atlantic League in average and made the All-Star team as a utility outfielder. 2004 was more of the same - .314/.388/.424 for the Lynchburg Hillcats with 91 runs and 57 steals in 72 tries. Davis won another batting title, edging Lynchburg teammate and MVP Brad Eldred by four points. Davis also stole the most bases in the league, scored the most runs and accumulated the most hits (160). He made his third straight All-Star team. He was named the #18 prospect in the league and the fastest baserunner according to BA. He stopped switch-hitting that year, going solely to the right side.
In 2005, Davis hit .281/.351/.369 with 45 steals in 54 tries. He was named both fastest baserunner and best baserunner in the Eastern League by Baseball America. Tying teammate Rich Thompson for the league lead in stolen bases, he missed the All-Star team in the EL. This tied the Altoona Curve team record for steals and he was fifth in the EL with 82 runs. He missed the last week of the year after fracturing his right hand when he was hit by a pitch.
Batting .283/.335/.343 with 45 SB in 58 attempts for the 2006 Indianapolis Indians, Davis was called up to the majors when Nate McLouth was placed on the Disabled List with a sprained ankle on August 15. Davis went 2 for 14 with Pittsburgh. Used frequently as a pinch-runner, he was thrown out in 3 of 4 steal attempts. Baseball America rated him as the fastest baserunner in the International League that year. He also led the IL with a .991 outfield fielding percentage.
Davis was injured early in the Venezuelan Winter League season while Nyjer Morgan starred in winter ball. Davis was then sent down relatively early in spring training. Morgan took over the leadoff and center field jobs for Indianapolis to start 2007, with Davis moving to right field and #2 in the order. When Morgan was injured, Davis reclaimed his old role. Davis was hitting .318/.384/.469 with 27 steals in 36 tries and a surprising 20 extra-base hits in 53 games to start 2007 with Indianapolis. He was 10th in the IL in average and leading in stolen bases. Pittsburgh then called him up to replace Humberto Cota on the roster.
Davis filled in sometimes in center field while Chris Duffy was hurt, but Nate McLouth got most of the starts. Rajai hit a solid .271/.357/.354 for the Pirates in 2007 and stole 5 bases in 7 tries in 24 games but was shipped to the San Francisco Giants at the trade deadline with a player to be named later (Steve MacFarland) for Matt Morris. He hit a solid .282 in 51 games for the Giants, stealing 17 bases and showing some good potential. However, he started 2008 with the Giants, going only 1 for 18, then caught a career break on April 23rd when the Oakland Athletics picked him up on waivers. He played 101 games the rest of the way, hitting .260 with 25 steals as a back-up in centerfield. He then was a regular in the A's outfield in both 2009 and 2010. He hit .305 with 41 steals in 2009, and then .284 with a career-high 50 steals the next year as Oakland's most-used centerfielder both seasons. On November 17, 2010, he was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays for two young pitchers, Danny Farquhar and Trystan Magnuson. His playing time went down slightly for the Jays in 2011,a s he got into only 93 games after playing over 100 his three seasons in Oakland, and he hit only .238 with a very poor .273 OBP. He did steal 34 bases and provide good defense, but overall, his first season north of the border was a big disappointment. He bounced back in 2012, now playing mainly in left field, as he hit .257 in 142 games. His OBP was back to .309, just slightly under his career average, and he stole 46 bases, second most in the American League; however, his 13 times caught stealing led the league, but he did score 64 runs, just two fewer than his career best.
On August 14, 2013, Rajai displayed his speed by circling the bases on a ball which barely reached the pitcher. With no one on in the 3rd inning, he hit a soft ground ball that bounced off Boston Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester's left leg. Lester picked it up, but rushed his throw to first on account of Davis's blazing speed, and the ball ended up rolling towards the right field corner. Davis motored his way to third as RF Shane Victorino retrieved the ball, but then made the ill-advised decision to try to gun him down at third base. The wild heave went past 3B Will Middlebrooks and Davis had crossed the plate before Will had even picked it up, for a play usually seen in a Little League game. He played 108 games for the Jays that season, hitting .260 with 6 homers, 24 RBIs and 49 runs scored. In spite of not being a true regular, he stole 45 bases in 51 attempts, good for second in the AL behind Jacoby Ellsbury. He became a free agent after the season and on December 11th signed a two-year deal with the Detroit Tigers, where he was expected to platoon in left field with Andy Dirks.
Playing for the Cleveland Indians on July 2, 2016, he hit for the cycle, doing so in reverse order. He led off the game by homering off Marco Estrada, then hit a triple off Estrada in the 3rd, added a double off Drew Hutchison in the 7th and finished the work with a single off Roberto Osuna in the 9th. Ironically, his feat came in a 9-6 loss to his former team, the Blue Jays, in a game that snapped a team record 14-game winning streak. He hit .243 in 134 games with 12 homers and 48 RBIs, 74 runs scored and an American League-leading 43 stolen bases. He came close to being a hero in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series on November 2nd, as he homered off Aroldis Chapman of the Chicago Cubs with two outs in the 8th inning to tie the game at 6-6. However, the Cubs scored twice in the 10th to claim the championship.
Source: Altoona Curve website, minorleaguebaseball.com, 2002-2007 Baseball Almanacs
- AL Stolen Bases Leader (2016)
- 50 Stolen Bases Seasons: 1 (2010)
- Anthony Fenech: "Rajai Davis' crushing journey from hero to footnote, in a World Series minute", USA Today Sports, November 3, 2016.