Rajai Davis once was the type of player you planned a trip to the concession stand around. Now, you think twice.

He's become equal parts run-producer, base-stealer and Energizer Bunny for the A's.

His speed always has made for excitement. But as Davis' game has become more well-rounded, he's evolved from useful part-time player into the A's everyday center fielder.

"He earned all of his playing time," manager Bob Geren said. "He got a chance to play and he did so well that you didn't want to take him out of the lineup. That's what you're looking for, a player to create their own playing time, and he did it."

The A's, who begin an eight-game road trip tonight against the Chicago White Sox, have turned their eyes toward 2010. Davis has forced his way into their plans.

In 46 games since the All-Star break, he's batting .327 (54-for-165) with 28 runs, 14 doubles and 28 RBI. His 20 stolen bases since the break were tied for the major league lead entering Monday.

With 31 stolen bases overall, Davis is the first Athletic to swipe more than 30 since Rickey Henderson in 1998.

Yet what exactly do the A's have in Davis? A player simply riding an extended hot streak? Or a late bloomer who's just now starting to flourish six weeks shy of his 29th birthday?

"He's playing a lot better than I expected," one major league scout said. "He looked like a one-tool guy, and he's turned out to be more than that."

The A's consider Davis, who's arbitration eligible for the first time this winter, a sure part of their outfield picture next season. They stop short of saying he's entrenched as their starting center fielder.

But if the A's carry over into 2010 their newfound fondness for the running game — they are fifth in the majors with 107 stolen bases — Davis blends nicely with that philosophy.

"He's taken advantage of this opportunity," assistant general manager David Forst said. "It certainly changes what we think he's capable of going forward. And our opinion beforehand wasn't necessarily through any fault of his own, because he never really got the opportunity.

"I don't think we have a clear enough picture of next year's team to know where he fits, but he certainly has a role here, and he's proven that role is more than just as a pinch runner."

The A's still refer to Davis as a young player, but in terms of experience more than age. He was drafted out of a Connecticut junior college in 2001 by the Pittsburgh Pirates. When the A's claimed him off waivers from the Giants in April 2008, Davis had played just 107 games from 2006-08.

Now enjoying regular playing time, Davis said there's no substitute for experience.

"I've been able to make adjustments from game to game," he said. "I feel like I can slow the pitches down. I'm getting a better understanding of pitchers, and how they like to operate. I've learned that by playing. It's not something I could have learned on the bench. It's a feel."

Two scouts said they've been impressed with Davis' development. But they still consider him best suited as a fourth outfielder, saying he needs to shorten up his swing and show more plate discipline.

Davis is simply pleased to see his name in the lineup every day. And he's making the most of it.

"I'm just thankful for getting an opportunity, to help us not only win but prepare for the future," he said. "What that may be, I'm not sure right now."

  • TODAY: A's (Brett Tomko 3-3) at White Sox (Carlos Torres 1-0), 5:11 p.m. TV: CSNCA. Radio: 860-AM; 1640-AM