Henry Davis could see an increase in playing time at catcher, but is this the best move for the Pittsburgh Pirates to make with his long-term defensive development in mind?
When the Pittsburgh Pirates selected Henry Davis with the no. 1 overall pick in the 2021 MLB Draft, all signs pointed toward him being the team's long-term answer at the catcher position. Nothing that Davis has done since being draft would seem to change that.
However, along came Endy Rodriguez. Acquired from the New York Mets six months prior to the Pirates drafting Davis, Rodriguez quickly started to explode as a prospect. Rodriguez became arguably the top catching prospect in all of baseball and a consensus top 50 prospect.
Due to the emergence of Rodriguez, Davis started to play other positions on the field. Mostly, right field. This has led to Davis, outside of one inning, spending his entire MLB career in right field. That, however, could be changing.
Ben Cherington and Derek Shelton have both stated that the plan post-trade deadline is for Davis to start to catch more. Well, here we are, post-trade deadline. But should Davis catch more? Or would it be in his best interest to continue to focus on right field?
Really the biggest factor here is Rodriguez. Since being promoted to the majors Rodriguez has looked good behind the plate defensively, and since starting his career 0-for-7 with six strikeouts he has been a very good hitter. All signs point toward Rodriguez sticking as the long-term answer at catcher.
Assuming this is the case, it would likely be in the best interest of Davis for him to continue to focus on right field. Davis is a good enough athlete for right field and could prove to have one of the best outfield arms in baseball. An arm that was on full display agaisnt the Philadelphia Phillies this past weekend, just ask Bryce Harper.
That said, there have been defensive struggles from Davis in right field. A lot of these struggles can likely be chalked up to growing pains. The best way for Davis to improve and work through these growing pains is to continue to log as many innings as possible in right field.
Through his first 274.1 MLB innings in right field Davis owns a -2 Defensive Runs Saved, -3 Outs Above Average, and he's committed 3 errors. His 76% success rate gives him a -5% success rate added, with his estimated success rate sitting at 82%.
The expected catch percentage on balls that have been hit to Davis in right field has been 82%. However, the actual catch percentage from Davis has been just 76%. This gives Davis a catch percentage added of -6%.
Again, despite these struggles, there is potential there for Davis. Since debuting in June his sprint speed ranks in the 75th percentile of baseball. His average arm strength of 95.6 MPH ranks in the 98th percentile of baseball.
Davis has the athleticism and arm strength to be a good defensive right field. The biggest hurdle is better learning routes and pursuing the ball in the outfield, as well as playing balls on the bounce and off the wall. The only way to improve in these areas is for Davis to continue to log as many innings as possible in right field.
Another factor here is the difference in offensvie potential between Davis and Rodriguez. Davis has the offensive potential that can make him a plus player at any position. There is a reason he went 1/1 in the draft.
As for Rodriguez, his offensive ceiling is not nearly as high as Davis due to the difference in power potential. Due to this, keeping Rodriguez behind the dish is the best way to maximize his long-term potential.
One could make the argument that having Davis work behind the plate is important so that he and Rodriguez are best suited to be the catching tandem moving forward. On the surface that makes sense. However, the Pirates are always going to want both Davis and Rodriguez in the lineup every day. For that to be the case they will have to carry a third catcher anyway. Having just two catchers on the roster with both playing every day is far too risky.
Is the best option for Davis to have him focus on learning/improving in right field? That's certainly an argument that can be made. Now it's up to the Pittsburgh Pirate front office and coaching staff to make that decision.