Pittsburgh Pirates: When Will Henry Davis Make His Major League Debut?

Oct 26, 2022; Surprise, Arizona, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Henry Davis plays for the Surprise
Oct 26, 2022; Surprise, Arizona, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Henry Davis plays for the Surprise / Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Henry Davis could be on the verge of making his major league debut in 2023, but when could we expect that to happen?

The Pittsburgh Pirates drafted Henry Davis first overall in the 2021 draft. A year and a half later, and Davis is still considered one of baseball’s premier prospects. Davis should be on the cusp of making the major leagues by now. But when will the Pirates see him make his debut?

Davis got his first extended look against minor league pitching last year and performed fairly well. Across 255 plate appearances, Davis batted .264/.380/.472 with a .385 wOBA and 136 wRC+. Davis ranked top five among the Pirate minor league batters in OPS, wOBA, and wRC+ (min. 250 PAs). Davis is known for his big power potential, and he hit ten dingers with a .208 isolated slugging percentage.

Davis struck out just 20% of the time with a solid 8.2% walk rate. For a guy who only hit just over .260 but had an OBP approaching .400, an 8.2% walk rate seems a bit low. But that’s because he got hit by so many pitches. He was plunked 20 times in less than 300 plate appearances. Almost all instances of 20+ HBP/<300 PA have happened in the lowest levels of the minor leagues. It’s happened just once at the major league level since integration. Davis had a 7.8% hit by pitch percentage, which was higher than 52 qualified MLB hitters’ walk rates in 2022.

Many of these HBPs caused him to miss as much time as he did. Wrist issues kept him out for nearly all of July and a good portion of August. The insane HBP rate carried over into the Arizona Fall League. Despite only stepping to the plate 69 times, he was hit seven more times. That means that just over 10% of his plate appearances were HBPs.

Getting drafted 1/1 put extremely high and top 1% goals and expectations for Davis. People expected him to rocket through the minor leagues like Juan Soto or Fernando Tatis Jr. when in reality, they’re outliers to the outliers. You have to remember that developing a catcher isn’t like developing a shortstop or outfielder. Catcher is a whole lot different, and for obvious reasons. The most hyped-catching prospect since prospect rankings became a thing (and arguably one of the most hyped position player prospects ever) is Adley Rutschman, who currently holds the highest draft signing bonus of all time and was ranked as a top two prospect in baseball. It took until he was 24 to make his Major League debut. Soto and Tatis are only about the age Rutschman is now.

Now making his debut and playing a key role are two different things. Oneil Cruz and Roansy Contreras made their debut in 2021 but didn’t get an extended look in the bigs until the following season. Davis should make his debut sometime in the second half of the 2023 season. A big factor for Davis will to be to stay healthy, which could be helped if he can stop getting hit so often. While Davis projects for a second-half debut, you can’t rule out a situation where he forces the Pirates’ hand after they’re eligible to get the extra year of control on him.