Pittsburgh Pirates: Battle for Catcher of the Future

Jun 18, 2019; Omaha, NE, USA; Louisville Cardinals catcher Henry Davis (32) heads to the dugout after the first inning against the Auburn Tigers in the 2019 College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 18, 2019; Omaha, NE, USA; Louisville Cardinals catcher Henry Davis (32) heads to the dugout after the first inning against the Auburn Tigers in the 2019 College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Pittsburgh Pirates acquired a handful of catching prospects over the last year, but of these two, who is the team’s backstop of the future?

The shallowest part of the Pittsburgh Pirates farm system going into 2021 was catcher. The team didn’t really have a noteworthy backstop prospect aside from Endy Rodriguez. Though since then, they’ve added a ton of young catching through the draft and trades. But who is the team’s catcher of the future?

In my opinion, Endy Rodriguez is still the backstop of the future for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Rodriguez is a switch-hitting catcher who’s put up well above average numbers every year of his professional career so far. Currently, he’s batting .279/.360/.471 with a .391 wOBA, and 127 wRC+. Rodriguez is only striking out at an 18.8% rate and drawing ball four 11/9% of the time. Plus he’s hit for some power with a .192 isolated slugging percentage.

He is projected to have a very good hit tool with a 60-future grade by FanGraphs. His power is fringy with just a 40-future game power and 45-future raw power grade. Though his average exit velocity in 2019 was 90 MPH. He has shown some power against left-handed pitchers. Though his overall offensive game should play up given his strong ability to hit line drives. Currently, he has a 25.1% line drive rate this season. Rodriguez also has a sub-40% ground ball rate (38.9%) while having a 36% fly ball rate. Rodriguez’s line drive approach will keep his bat above average despite his overall lack of power.

But he’s also an outstanding defender with a 60-future fielding grade and an average arm. To me, his defense should be a big factor when looking at the team’s future catcher.

However, you can’t talk about the team’s potential catcher of the future without talking about Henry Davis. The Pirates picked Davis 1/1 in this year’s draft. One of, if not the best hitter in the draft, Davis hit .337/.435/.565 with a .439 wOBA in 438 plate appearances throughout college. Davis blasted 21 home runs while also putting up a .228 ISO. He has massive power potential with both his game power and raw power both projected to be 70-grade tools. Plus his hit tool is decent with a 50-future projected grade.

Davis showed off that power this past season, batting .370/.482/.663 with 15 long balls and a .410 wOBA. He walked more than he struck out with a 13.6% walk rate and a strikeout rate of just 10.5%. Overall, he walked more than he struck out throughout college with 52 base on balls vs 46 strikeouts.

Though the one thing that holds him back is his defense. Right now, Davis is only seen as a 40-grade defender in the future. His ability to catch high-quality stuff can get inconsistent. He has a rocket arm that comes in with a 70-grade. But his arm is his only above average part of his defensive game as it currently is projected and at the current level, it is at.

If Rodriguez can continue to hit at the level he has, I think he becomes the catcher of the future and Davis has to move elsewhere. Now Davis has the arm to move to left field if need be. He could also move to first base since Mason Martin is far from a given because of his swing-and-miss issues and walking far less often this year than in prior years.

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That doesn’t mean Davis is a bad player. Having two good players at one position is a good problem to have. But when it comes to catcher, defense should take priority over offense. Both Rodriguez and Davis are the same age. If both end up as productive players, I think Rodriguez ends up getting the bulk of time behind the dish unless Davis shows some massive improvements with his fielding ability over the next 2-3 years.

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