Pittsburgh Pirates: Debating Henry Davis and the Outfield


The Pittsburgh Pirates are going to see what top prospect Henry Davis can do in the grass, but is that the right call to make?

The Pittsburgh Pirates will give top prospect Henry Davis some reps in the outfield grass. The first overall pick of the 2021 draft has only been used as a catcher and designated hitter so far in his professional career so the outfield will be a new position for him. Rob Biertempfel broke the news of this position experiment of the Athletic, but is this the right call on the Pirates’ end?

The Pittsburgh Pirates knew that drafting Davis would mean there was a possibility of him moving to a different position, drafting him for his bat, first and foremost. Going into the draft, FanGraphs projected Davis to be a 70-grade power hitter who blasted 21 home runs in 428 plate appearances throughout college. Davis had 15 dingers and a .293 isolated slugging percentage in his final year with Louisville.

So far, Davis’ professional career has gotten off to a good start. In 229 plate appearances, he’s slashing .282/.397/.537 with a .413 wOBA and 152 wRC+. He’s continued to hit for a ton of power, launching 11 home runs with a .255 isolated slugging percentage. He’s also drawn 20 walks to oppose just 46 K’s.

Davis has been held back in 2022 due to some injuries. They all haven’t been his fault, as he’s suffered wrist injuries in part due to multiple hit-by-pitches. This season, he has 18 HBP’s in less than 50 games and 200 plate appearances. Only two players in the MLB have matched that HBP total, with Willson Contreras and Anthony Rizzo having 23 and 18, respectively, but both have over 100 games played and 450+ trips to the plate.

Davis has one of the highest offensive ceilings in the Pirates’ system. But FanGraphs described his crouch behind the dish so high you could fit an ottoman through it. Davis’ issues with blocking have been on full display, allowing eight passed balls in just 297.2 innings as a backstop. Endy Rodriguez likely plays a role in Davis’ move to the outfield.

After a great year in 2021 with A-Ball Bradenton, Rodriguez has gotten even better this season. In 446 plate appearances, Rodriguez has slashed .310/.399/.570. With an 11.4% walk rate and 19.4% K-rate, he’s put up a sub-20% K-rate and 10%+ walk rate for the fifth year in a row. He’s hit 21 home runs while posting a .260 ISO. Overall, he has a .425 wOBA and 159 wRC+.

However, since the outset of May, Rodriguez has a 177 wRC+. The start of the year’s second half has seen him post an insane 236 wRC+. Since getting promoted to Double-A Altoona, Rodriguez has had five multi-hit games and has reached base safely in all but one of his contests. While Davis is a poor defender behind the dish, Rodriguez projects to be an above-average glove. He also has an accurate arm behind the plate with a 29% caught stealing rate this year.

But the Pirates don’t have to move Davis to the outfield to find room for both him and Rodriguez. Rodriguez has plenty of playing time in left field and right field, along with first base, and has also taken up second base. Rodriguez is exceptionally versatile. Davis moving to the outfield wasn’t an immediate need, given that he could DH and share catching duties with Rodriguez.

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Still, anyone knew that the Pirates were taking a risk on Davis’ long-term outlook behind the dish when they selected him first overall. Davis has a rocket arm, so putting him at first base is a bit of a waste. Plus, he has more athleticism than your typical catcher. It might look like a strange move on paper, but one that makes sense in the long run. Rodriguez has looked great, both with the bat and with the glove. The Pirates need to find some way to get both Rodriguez and Davis in the same line-up because wasting their talents at 1B and DH isn’t the best option.