NORMAL — Normal manager Billy Horn founded a Facebook page he titled "Meet a Prospect" to help independent baseball teams connect with players seeking an opportunity to play professionally.
Yet in Horn's case, his own creation could more accurately be dubbed "Meet a Leadoff Man."
Responding to a post by James Davison Jr., Horn signed a speedster who has turned into his leadoff man, center fielder and spark plug.
The CornBelters, who faced River City at the Corn Crib on Saturday in a game not completed at Pantagraph press time, are 18-6 in games Davison has appeared.
“I found him on my Facebook page,” said Horn, who brought in Davison and third baseman Michael Baca at the Frontier League’s All-Star break in mid July. “I thought to myself ‘we only have 15 stolen bases as a club. We need speed.’ He’s had a tremendous amount of success.”
Davison, a native of south Chicago suburb Lansing, considered quitting baseball after he was not drafted in June out of St. Mary’s, a Division II program in Texas.
“It was working at a popcorn place until I could go back to school,” Davison said. “But I felt like I was too good to be sitting around doing things like that. I put a post on Facebook, and Billy reached out. I was excited. I actually felt wanted again.”
Far from imposing in the batter’s box, Davison is 5-foot-7 (“5-6½ on a bad day,” he said) and 150 pounds. The lefty-swinging Davison is adept at either pushing a bunt down the third base line or executing a drag bunt to the right side past the pitcher.
“I’m not the most exciting player when you look at my body type,” Davison said. “I feel like I have to bring other things to the game just to get people to notice I can play this game at a high level.”
Davison is batting .384 with 21 runs scored in 24 games. He has one home run, nine RBIs and nine stolen bases.
“We have a lot of power hitters, great hitters on our team,” said Davison. “My role is to get on base and use my speed to open up holes for everybody else to hit. I’m blessed to be at the top of this order. We have so many weapons.”
Davison’s .431 on-base percentage has been particularly useful with Frontier League career hits leader Santiago Chirino batting second ahead of sluggers Derrick Loveless and Andrew Godbold.
Chirino is hitting .373 and reaching base at a .432 clip.
“In my mind, if Davison gets on it’s first and third,” Horn said. “Or I’ve got a runner on second and Chirino knocks him in.”
After two years in junior college, Davison played at powerhouse Miami (Fla.) where he started 45 of 55 games and batted .234 with a team-high 14 steals in 2017.
“The way I play didn’t fit with what the coaches wanted my game to be,” Davison said of transferring to St. Mary’s.
In his final college season, Davison posted a .326 average and pilfered 21 bases. Although he was not drafted by a major league team, Davison did find his way to pro baseball.
“We all have our different routes. I feel like this is my route,” he said. “I’m going to enjoy every moment I get to play baseball and take advantage of it.”