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Matt Davidson: From MLB First Round Pick to KBO Star

 David Polli - World Baseball Network  |    Jul 11th, 2024 9:38am EDT

At 22, Matt Davidson made his debut for the Arizona Diamondbacks on August 11, 2013. That night, he collected his first hit. Despite finishing the season with a 110 OPS+, Davidson wouldn’t appear in the MLB again until 2016. Since then, he bounced around the minor league system before landing in the KBO, and now, he is experiencing a career year at 33.  

Davidson grew up in Yucaipa, Calif., and, after graduating high school, committed to the University of Southern California Trojans before being selected in the first round, 35 overall, by the Diamondbacks in 2009. Davidson would put up great stats in the minors and had a respectful rookie slash line of .237/.333/.434 in 76 at-bats, finishing with a .768 OPS, 10% above league average.  

This debut impressed the Chicago White Sox; in December of 2013, Davidson was the sole compensation from the D-Backs in a trade for Chicago’s closer Addison Reed. However, he couldn’t break the major league roster for the White Sox in 2014 or 2015.

He finally got his chance in the bigs in 2016 but only got two at-bats, going 1-2, before being sent back down after breaking his foot.

Finally, Matt Davidson got a full-time shot, collecting 400+ at-bats in 2017 and 2018 with the White Sox. He was an opening day starter in 2018 and became just the fourth player in MLB history to hit three home runs on opening day. He had a 102 OPS+ that season, but the White Sox finished 67-95.   

After spending the entire 2019 season in the minor leagues for the Texas Rangers AAA affiliate Nashville Sounders, with an OPS of .852, 101 RBIs, and 33 home runs, Davidson got an opportunity in the Covid-shortened season for the Cincinnati Reds. 

However, he tested positive for COVID-19 and was never able to get back on track. Davidson spent his 2021 in AAA for the Dodgers before getting picked up by a familiar face in the Arizona Diamondbacks. He couldn’t stick on despite decent numbers in 5 games and was DFA’d. He was picked up for eight games by the Oakland Athletics but did not perform well at the MLB level. He was sent down before electing outright free agency on October 6, 2022.  

After years between the Major and Minor leagues, Davidson needed a change of scenery. He took his talents to the NPB, signing a one-year contract to play first and third base for the Hiroshima Toyo Carp.

Despite highlights like winning one million Japanese yen and a year’s worth of Kirin Beer for hitting a monster home run to left field hitting a Kirin Beer billboard on April 28, 2023, Davidson only hit .210, garnering an OPS of just .698 even while hitting 19 home runs.  

On January 11, 2024, Davidson signed a one-year contract with the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) NC Dinos. In what could have been his last chance, the 33-year-old has been fantastic.

Through 75 games thus far, Davidson leads the KBO in home runs with 26. He has a batting average of .280, an on-base percentage of .355, a slugging percentage of .585, 64 runs batted in, and 12 hits by pitches. He leads the 40-42-2 Dinos in OPS and RBIs.

Through ups and downs, Davidson has always given it his all. From first-round pick to trade piece to minor leaguer and now KBO star, Matt Davidson has finally carved out a consistent role in professional baseball.

Photo Credit: Matt Davidson #4 of the Oakland Athletics looks on during the fourth inning against the Cleveland Guardians. (Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images)

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David Polli - World Baseball Network