Pittsburgh Pirates Prospects Who Could Develop MLB Roles in 2023

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Catcher Henry Davis

The Pittsburgh Pirates have two very talented catching prospects. One is Endy Rodriguez, who’s almost guaranteed to eventually be the regular catcher at some point during this upcoming season. But the other highly touted backstop was the team’s number-one overall pick in 2021. That’s Henry Davis. With Rodriguez, the Pirates could have a backstop clog-up in th near future, but will Davis make that happen this year?

Davis turned in a quality season at the dish. In 255 trips to the plate, Davis slashed .264/.380/.472. Davis, who’s known for his plus power, had a healthy .208 isolated slugging percentage and ten home runs and a dozen doubles. He also only struck out 20% of the time with an 8.2% walk rate. Between solid plate discipline and plus power production, Davis ended the year with a .385 wOBA and 136 wRC+, making him the second most productive catcher in the system per wRC+. Overall, his wRC+ was the 5th best among the Pirates’ minor league bats with 200+ plate appearances.

But it was also quite an odd year for Davis. The backstop received 20 HBPs in less than 300 plate appearances. That’s an almost unheard-of rate. For reference, in FanGraphs’ recorded baseball history (since 1871), only 140 players have been hit 20+ times. Just one did it in fewer than 300 plate appearances. This caused him to suffer a few injuries, one of which was a fractured wrist that bothered the backstop throughout the year. It was clear this was an issue late in the year, as he registered just a .703 OPS, .320 wOBA, and 97 wRC+ at Altoona.

But if his Arizona Fall League numbers are an indicator of anything, it’s that he’s back to full strength. He had an OPS of .875 in the small sample size of 69 plate appearances. Unsurprisingly, he was hit seven more times, a rate even higher than his regular season HBP/PA. Still, he seemed to stay healthy and perform well.

Where Davis struggles is defense. He has a cannon behind the plate, but keeping the ball in front of him has been an issue. He allowed seven passed balls in just 324 innings. Since becoming a professional baseball player, nine in less than 500 innings (370, to be exact). The Pirates did give Davis a few reps in right field but likely don’t view him as an outfielder. He’s still a catcher by trade and will remain there until he’s forced off.

I wouldn’t expect Davis to take over a regular role until late into the season. With Rodriguez, the Pirates don’t need to rush Davis. Even if Davis’ late-season struggles were a byproduct of his injury, you’d still like to see him piece together a healthy season. He’ll certainly make his debut at some point, but I doubt he will take over a regular role immediately like Rodriguez projects to. But by 2024, he should be in the mix for catcher/designated hitter. You could definitely see a situation where he and Rodriguez share catcher, DH, and first base to keep each other fresh. Plus, you get the added benefit of utilizing Rodriguez’s versatility.

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