Pittsburgh Pirates: Early Look at When Henry Davis Could Debut

PITTSBURGH, PA - JULY 18: Catcher Henry Davis, who was selected first overall in the 2021 MLB draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates, poses for photos on the field after signing a contract with the Pirates at PNC Park on July 18, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - JULY 18: Catcher Henry Davis, who was selected first overall in the 2021 MLB draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates, poses for photos on the field after signing a contract with the Pirates at PNC Park on July 18, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images) /

The Pittsburgh Pirates selected Henry Davis with the #1 overall pick in the draft, so let’s take an early look as to when we could see him in the major leagues.

The Pittsburgh Pirates earned the #1 pick in the 2021 draft after winning just 19 games during the shortened 2020 season. Surprisingly, they used the pick on college catcher Henry Davis. The pick came as a surprise.

While Davis was considered a top 5 pick, not too many had him going to the Pittsburgh Pirates at the #1 overall spot. The pick paid off as they were able to go underslot with Davis and use the money they saved him on to draft some very talented overslot deals later on.

We’ve talked plenty about the organization’s over-slot picks recently, so let’s take our focus on Davis. More specifically, when could we expect the first-round draft pick to make the Major Leagues?

Going into the draft Davis was considered one of, if not the best power hitter in the draft. According to FanGraphs, Davis had future grades of 70 for both his raw and game power. His projected game power was considered the best in the draft while his raw power ranked second behind Brady House.

Davis showed off this power during his time at the University of Louisville. Through 428 plate appearances at the NCAA level, Davis batted .337/.435/.565 while swatting 21 home runs and totaling 19 doubles. That would have put him on pace for 30 home runs and 27 doubles in 600 plate appearances.

Davis had a .228 isolated slugging percentage. Just for reference of what a .228 ISO looks like, both Josh Donaldson and Kris Bryant have the same mark this year. All told, the slugging catcher had a .439 wOBA, which would fall between Shohei Ohtani and Vlad Guerrero Jr. as a Major League picture of what that looks like.

A lot of Davis’ performance came in 2021. Through his final 228 plate appearances, Davis slahed .370/.482/.663, blasted 15 home runs while drawing a walk 13.6% of the time and going down on strike three in just 10.5% of his trips to the plate. Davis’ display of power is shown in his near-40 home run pace in 600 plate appearances and ISO approaching .300 at .293. Davis even showed a little bit of athleticism, swiping 10 bases in 13 attempts. All told, Davis had a .410 wOBA.

Davis also displayed good plate discipline and patience. He walked more than he struck out, posting a 12.1% walk rate while going down on strike three just 10.7% of the time. He earned a 50-future grade for his hit tool by FanGraphs with 45 grades for both his plate patience and plate coverage.

Now there have been some questions about his ability to stick behind the dish. Though he has improved throughout his college career, Davis can get a bit inconsistent when it comes to higher-quality stuff. Though there’s little question about his arm. He has a 70-grade arm by FanGraphs. Said arm gunned down 34% of runners trying to steal on him between 2019 and 2020.

Davis already has a strong 6’2″, 210-pound frame. Unlike most catchers, he’ll make it to the Major Leagues on his powerful bat. Davis is 21 and will turn 22 on September 21. Given how advanced his bat was in college, he may rise through the Pirate farm system at a fair pace.

Now that doesn’t mean the Pittsburgh Pirates should rush him. The team doesn’t have an absolute need for a catcher in the major leagues with Jacob Stallings providing a quality option until his contract expires after the 2024 season. Assuming he isn’t traded, Stallings isn’t a bad option until Davis or Endy Rodriguez is ready.

Another question that could relate to when we may see Davis in the Major Leagues is what position he will play. His defensive question marks when it comes to receiving consistently could lead him to at least getting familiar with another position such as first base, third base, or left field.

Though catchers only end up catching 100-110 games a year anymore. Since the beginning of 2015, there have only been 25 instances where a backstop has geared up to play behind the dish 120+ times, 23 fewer than 2009-2014. In my opinion, Davis will end up playing catcher 80 or so times a season while spending the other handful of games as a first baseman, and even potentially a designated hitter if that arrives by the time he is in the majors.

So when could you expect Davis playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates? A fairly optimistic, although not unrealistic, outlook would be the 2023 season. He may not start the year on the major league roster, but I think he’d be a mid-season reinforcement.

By then, the Pittsburgh Pirates should be contending for a playoff spot with many of their top prospects major league ready and Davis could add a middle-of-the-order bat in late-June to mid-July.

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Though a likely more realistic outlook is late into the 2023 season to get his first taste of big-league action, and then 2024 as a rookie. Like I said earlier, the Pittsburgh Pirates have no reason to rush such a talented hitter throughout their minor league system. Plus players aren’t perfect. They get injured, miss some time, maybe he doesn’t hit the ground sprinting at one level. Though in general, it shouldn’t be all that long until we see Davis in the Major Leagues.