It is a sinking feeling, toxic enough to sink a career if you let it, and J.D. Davis can’t quite pinpoint when he first felt that pang suggesting he was no longer the man, but rather being pushed to the margins of the Houston Astros organization.
Eventually, the lineup card and the minor-league assignments and an otherworldly force named Alex Bregman told him more than the front office could.
A once-emaciated organization suddenly had a smorgasbord of talent – and not nearly enough major league jobs to go around.
“As the years go by, you kind of learn the business side of it, learn how teams work,” says Davis. “You think that you’re the guy, but at the end of the day, they may have different plans.”
After an offseason trade, Davis now works for the New York Mets, and at 26, is consistently killing the baseball, producing an .893 OPS in his first extended opportunity at the major league level.
It is a chance that never came in Houston, although Davis harbors no ill will toward the organization that made him a third-round pick in 2014.
After all, he is just one of several ex-Astros who at some point felt they were riding a wave created by Houston’s stunning proficiency in drafting, developing and trading for major league talent.
Instead, they nearly got smothered by it.
Oh, Davis got a championship ring for his troubles, thanks to a 25-game stint with the big club in their World Series-winning 2017 season. So, too, did Tyler White, who started three postseason games for the Astros in 2018 but now plays for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Ramon Laureano never did bubble up to Minute Maid Park, but he may eventually have a Gold Glove. The Oakland Athletics center fielder – a 3-win player this year thanks to 21 home runs and occasionally stunning defensive work – only reached Class AA with the Astros before a 2018 trade to Oakland gave him daylight.
Make no mistake: These are not the ones that got away from Houston.
At 77-41, the Astros are running away with their third consecutive American League West title and, by cashing in more prospect capital to acquire pitcher Zack Greinke on July 31, are prohibitive favorites to win the AL pennant.