The Pirates shocked the MLB community when they selected Henry Davis, a college catcher from the University of Louisville first overall in the 2021 MLB draft.
I want to start this article by saying that this pick has truly divided a lot of the staff here at Rum Bunter. Going into the draft night, most experts had the Pirates selecting a high school bat, specifically Marcelo Mayer, a shortstop out of California. Ben Cherington in his second draft flipped the script and took Davis, a name that has been associated with the Pirates at 1-1, but was never truly expected.
With that being said, I get to write the rating article of day one and happen to like this pick by the Pirates. Let’s dive into three reasons why I am giving this pick a rating of B+.
Henry Davis may actually be the best player in the 2021 draft.
While most analysts had the high school shortstops (Mayer, Lawlar, and Watson) and pitcher Jack Leiter as the top talents in the draft, those same analysts also have stated that there is no clear number one talent in the draft. Instead, this draft was typically described as having a “top tier” of players and it is completely believable that different MLB organizations would have different players at the top of their board. Ben Cherington supported this statement in an interview with the MLB Network last night:
"“We thought there were a lot of good players in the draft…as of last night Davis was on the top of the board.”"
If Davis was an extremely clear number one choice for the Pirates, Cherington would have said so. He said nothing even close to that and instead recognized the overall talent pool in this draft while also stating that the Pirates thought he was the best player available. I have no reason to think that Cherington is blatantly lying as Davis has all of the tools needed for the 1st overall pick. Slashing .370/.482/.663/1.145 with 15 home runs over 228 plate appearances Davis was the consensus best pure-hitter in the college class. Outside of Davis’s superb power and contact ability, he also has showed great control of the strike zone with a 31 walk to 24 strikeout ratio. Even if some of the high school shortstops end up having a higher ceiling, none of them have proven themselves at the collegiate level like Davis.
Henry Davis is great organizational fit.
One of the most obvious shortcomings of the Pirates current farm system is their depth at catcher. The Pirates simply do not have any legitimate catching prospects in their system. They change this by adding Henry Davis and he immediately becomes the Pirates catcher of the future. it is typically recommended to draft talent, not position in baseball, but why not have the best of both worlds?
To be fair there are questions about Davis’s ability to stay behind the plate. Davis has consistently graded out as a below average defender and pitch framer. However, his arm is off the chart. I will take my chances that Davis will stay behind the plate with the increasing likelihood of robot umps (whether you like them or not) that are already being used throughout the minors and the upside that MLB level coaches bring to player development.
Outside of his position, Davis has a great personality and mentality. In the same interview mentioned above, Cherington stated that he was extremely impressed by Davis at the MLB combine. The MLB combine was a new event that was started this year to allow another opportunity for players to showcase their abilities. Most of the first-round talent players opted out of the combine, but Davis showed up and impressed both on the field and in private interviews.
Henry Davis will allow the Pirates flexibility to sign a player that drops out of the first or second round.
Since teams can’t trade draft picks in the MLB, one way that teams can leverage draft capital is through how much they sign players that are drafted. Each draft position in the MLB draft has an assigned value amount. For the Pirates the amount for pick 1-1 is $8,415,300. All of the Pirates picks combined are valued at $14,394,000. Whenever a team looks to draft and sign a high school player, that player can choose to play college ball instead of signing, even if they are drafted by an MLB club. This is less of a concern with college players and, therefore, college players typically sign for a smaller percentage of the draft pick’s slot value than a high school player that would need additional incentive.
If Davis signs for $1 or $2 million less than the $8.4 million value of his slot, the Pirates can use those savings to sign a talented player that drops out of the first or second round that may need an additional incentive to join an MLB team compared to going to college.
In summary, Henry Davis is a really solid pick for the Pirates. A rating of B+ is appropriate as of now, but can flex down to a B minus or up to an A+ depending on if Davis stays at catcher and if the Pirates can make use of the additional monetary savings on draft day two.