As if the expectations weren’t already going to be high for Henry Davis as the number one overall pick in 2021, the circumstances around his selection may have added an extra target on his back.
The Pirates signed Davis to an under slot deal, using the savings to sign players later in the draft like Bubba Chandler and Anthony Solometo. That forced a narrative that the Pirates took a lesser player with the first pick, and that he will never live up to the number one overall pick.
Unfortunately, injuries have limited the catcher to just 286 plate appearances over a season-plus, going back to his draft year.
That just hasn’t been enough to get a full evaluation on Davis to sway opinion one way or another. It’s unfortunate that he’s been hurt, and that will certainly slow down the consensus top college bat during his draft year. His ascension to his majors wasn’t ever going to be as simple as just hitting his way there.
What We Know
Davis was the top rated college hitter in the draft class, and when healthy, has flashed that. In just 100 plate appearances with Greensboro in 2022, he posted a wRC+ of 180. Overall, even with his struggles in Double-A, he still finished the year with a 136 wRC+ and .852 OPS.
He launched a home run in his first game with Altoona, but injuries derailed the majority of his stay there. In and out of the lineup, it was hard to find any kind of consistency at the plate and his overall numbers showed that — .207/.324/.379 with a 97 wRC+ and a 22.1 K% (not bad but higher than his time in High-A).
Didn’t take Henry Davis long, did it? #LetsGoBucs pic.twitter.com/wUv7igEdds
— Anthony Murphy (@__Murphy88) May 10, 2022
One of the ways that could help is to make an adjustment at the plate to put himself in less of a position to get hit by pitches. He was hit 20 times in 255 plate appearances last season — one of 18 players in all of the minors to reach that mark. Of the 18 who got hit at least 20 times, he did so in over 100 fewer plate appearances.
The injury to his wrist obviously sapped some of his power, as Davis’ line drive rate was cut in half (28% down to 14%).
What Still Needs To Be Found Out
Maybe the biggest concern about Davis is what position he was going to play. He has one of the strongest arms behind the plate, but there are questions about his receiving and pitch framing.
The automated strike zone will be in Triple-A this year, so the framing won’t be as much of an issue, but there is still work to be done. Despite the strong arm, he only threw out 12.82% of would-be base stealers last year, and allowed seven passed balls in 324 innings behind the plate.
Really he just needs time to continue to get work behind the plate, and let his play determine where his final position will be. He got some very brief work in right field at the end of the season in Altoona, but the focus should remain behind the plate.
Going back to the 2021 draft, there was never really a clear cut number one option, with several names being tossed out there — and Davis was very much in the mix as well. The whole situation gets a bad rap just looking at that pick, as names like Marcelo Mayer and Jordan Lawlar are performing well (Jack Leiter, another option struggled in his pro debut), and Davis has struggled to stay on the field.
The fact is, we still aren’t sure what kind of player Davis can be. He has shown that power when healthy, but he’s going to need to find a way to stay on the field to take his development to the next step.
Highlight of the Day
Anthony began writing over 10 years ago, starting a personal blog to cover the 2011 MLB draft, where the Pirates selected first overall. After bouncing around many websites covering hockey, he refocused his attention to baseball, his first love when it comes to sports. He eventually found himself here at Pirates Prospects in late 2021, where he covers the team’s four full season minor league affiliates.
Davis has definitely been held back due to injuries, but trying to find an alternate position for him could be extremely difficult. Just going back through his years in College and HS, he may have been in Little League the last time he played anywhere but Catcher.
Thankfully, the DH is a definite benefit for him, and the Pirates will not have a RH DH in 2024, so that will probably be his lot when he is not Catching. Having Endy Rodriguez as a Catcher will benefit Henry because since being behind Alvarez in the Mets org, he played a lot of positions other than Catcher. For instance, in 2018 he played 30 games at C and 21 games at 1B. In 2019 he played 15 games at C, and 11 games at 1B, OF. The Pirates have maintained that multi-positional exposure and it will pay dividends.
The only question is will Henry Davis be able to hit for average and power at AA in 2023? Still only 23 for the entire season.
Can’t wait to see more Bradenton this year
Some cool Henry Davis data with metal …
Always coming through, James!
I’m actually surprised to see Frelick with a Max EV of 109. Then seeing Berry with 85.2 Avg EV is kind of surprising (yuck), but very early and SSS.
Also some 2023 draft guys (and a big Yankees prospect)
Hes a very part time catcher at best. I think I’d work him at DH and First Base mainly. Need to change his approach and body a bit to keep him on the field.
If he has a 70 arm, I say RF reps would be a decent idea. Be cool watching him throwing guys out at 3b from out there.
Outside of injury, I don’t see much to be concerned about with Davis. Batted well and reached AA in his first full season, just about what we were hoping for. If he comes into this season healthy & does well at AA/AAA, he’s right back to the top of our prospect rankings.
They’ve got him wearing armor now. Let’s see what he’s able to do this year. I like the power and obp combo. He could be a 260 380 guy who hits 20-25 hrs a year and that plays at about any position.
Why so much anxiety regarding Davis. Sure he gets hit by pitchers much to much but if he stays healthy he can be dynamite with the bat. Lets relax and have him prove what he is capable of before we start to think he is a failed high draft choice.
Would just be nice for him to stay reasonably healthy for a whole season to get an idea how good he really is.
biggest concern I have about tank is if he is going to succeed hitting homeruns by either dead pulling or going oppo because that notch is a thing
Tank needs a solid season at Altoona, catching 3 days a week and splitting other 3 between DH and right field. When Endy moves up, hopefully he’s ready to move up to Indy.
Hank hit well (.260/.435/.440) in the AFL against advanced pitching & walked almost as much as he K’d (10 BB/11 K) which is a real good sign for a power hitter.
He caught 115 innings in the AFL & had 2 errors, but an improved 26% caught stealing %
Ultimately i think we’re going to see a system where they arent depending all that much on Davis’ catching defense anyway.
i bet ultimately there’s a system where davis catches 35 percent of the games and endy does 65.
When davis isn’t catching, he can play 1b, RF, DH, and or rest.
When Endy isn’t catching, he can play literally wherever, DH, or rest. Given the demands of the extra catching and the demands of being able to play harder positions, maybe he even needs two rests per week! That’d be the beauty of having two guys you like!
maybe davis’ catching ratio increases if Endy gets hurt or whatever.
either that or someone gets traded.
i happen to like the 2 great catcher strategy as long as theres a hair of flexibility involved and the players arent d*cks about it. i’m not entirely sure Davis will be happy about playing 1b DH and rf, but we’ll see.
How much more dev time is he going to need to learn RF, 1b and C competently? This could be a slow burn, if they do it right. Not to mention, does Henry have the attitude to be a Utility C? With the caveat of him developing into a plus bat.
Obviously, this is a huge year for him.
Right now, there’s more questions than answers. Not to say he can’t do it, but it’ll be a challenge.
We’ve seen guys like G.I, Pedro, Doumit, Josh Bell all play out of position and none were even competent playing defense. Bottom line, if Davis can’t play competent defense, he’ll need to be a plus, plus bat or strictly DH.
Just playing Devil’s Advocate as this is an extremely fluid situation.
I think it’s an area that requires some context. When we’re discussing OF’s who for the most part are all on a level playing field in terms of upside, then I’m going to say, “Hey, I want Swaggerty as my CF because I know 100% he’s the best there”. If we start talking corners, then Cal/CSN/Suwi might get a neck up for their bats, where Cal is 100% predicated on him hitting. When we’re talking about Endy and Davis, they’re both tracking to be above average enough offensively that the defensive alignment is of little concern to me.
With Endy and Davis, it could come down to a matter of Endy is the better catcher overall, but having Davis catch and Endy elsewhere for his athleticism is the best alignment. If the choice is (for argument’s sake) either above average catcher and below average 1B/RF or average catcher and above average INF/OF, I’ll take the latter assuming the bats are equal either way. That way you’re getting average to above at 2 positions rather than just one.
NMR has mentioned a handful of times now that even just leaving Oneil Cruz at SS kind of sets the bar low for, “We want to make sure they play their position adequately”. You look at what the Marlins have done this off-season, they’re just rolling with sticking a 2B at every position. Jazz seems the type that could handle CF on the fly, but it was the best overall move for what they had to work with. It happens all the time at MLB level, and the good teams learn to navigate it. Having the DH now does help a bit.
Anecdotal, but lets also not forget how atrocious the Phillies were defensively. They were hot garbage, but when you can outhit your poor play!
All points are valid. But, he’s going to have to really hit. I see the Schwarb comps, but I don’t see the power in that sense. Maybe less power, and better k rates.
Cruz can improve, that’s why he’s still at SS.
I don’t know many (if any middle infielders) that have successfully transitioned to CF. Remember Trea Turner tried!
Some of the guys in here (not you) think anyone can play 1b and middle infield types like Bae can be legit everyday CF’ers.
Yes, Phillies D is/was bad, but they had some real thumpers to make up the difference and a helluva a pitching staff. I think the defense got a bit better after adding Marsh at the deadline.
Can’t remember which podcast I was listening to but they mentioned a Mike Napoli comp for Davis. First overall pick obviously we’d want him closer to Schwarber, but I think if at the very least Solometo and Chandler make the majors, and Davis becomes a Napoli type hitter (he did have a career 119 wRC+), you’d have to consider that class a success and worth it the route they went.
tbh, with the wild nature of the draft, getting a career 119 wRC+ hitter at the top seems pretty good.
That’s an excellent comp. Like you said, not a bad outcome.
I’ll also be the first to admit that the perception of this strategy has as much to do with how Marcello Mayer and Jordan Lawler end up performing as it does the guys the Pirates got.
If those two end up flaming out I don’t know that it really matters what Hank & Co do.
I’ve always held the belief that for defensive positional changes to be effective it’s more dependent on the individual person and not necessarily the demands of the position. Certainly there are limits to this line of thinking as there’s obviously no chance that a guy like Prince Fielder would have the speed or athleticism to play center field, but as far as I’m concerned there’s no reason to believe a middle infielder couldn’t play center field simply because there aren’t many people who have done it before. Dale Murphy was an excellent defensive center fielder but most people forget he broke into the majors as a catcher and played a little first base before moving to center. A current example of a guy who converted to being an outfielder on the fly at the major league level and is quite good defensively out there would be Daulton Varsho. From the brief action he saw in center at the end of the season there was nothing about Bae’s play in center that would lead me to believe he can’t handle the transition. Sure his arm is weak and that could occasionally be an issue but he has the speed to cover enough ground out there and seemed to my untrained eye to not have to rely on that speed to cover for mistakes in making his reads on balls in the air. I would certainly agree with the premise that it’s incredibly difficult to learn a new position, any position, and be successful at it but I’d argue that it’s a player specific issue and not a position specific issue.
I’ll admit I used to be one of those types, till I watched the transitions of El Toro and Bell. Then it became the realization of understanding “Baseball is hard”. Chavis did admirably all things considered, which his flexibility played a big part (Marc-Andre Chavis).
Other aspect with Davis that more or less just comes from reading interviews and quotes, is he’s a guy that will be putting in 200% of the work to at least become the best to his ability. In that, I think he could at least get himself to a level where it isn’t overly detrimental to his offensive value.
A random thought that popped into my head as I was writing this, that isn’t anything more than thinking out loud and a, “Duh!” comment. But as is the way with baseball, even most current OFs were INFs at one point till they got pushed off of SS. I think a player’s athletic ability/potential plays into it a lot. Hence why a Varsho as a catcher was even able to not only become a viable CF, but an elite defensive one.
Josh Bell costs his team fewer runs at 1B than Oneil Cruz does at SS.
I know you know this is my thing, but we still really aren’t grappling with what it means to ignore quality of defense in favor of just flat-out deciding so and so can or can’t play a position.
Yes, yes. Which hopefully we get to the point where they have enough good players that they can finally stop with the whole leaving a guy at a spot he probably shouldn’t be just because they have limited options.
It’s incredibly frustrating because you could get away with guys stretched on defense in the last decade or so with the shift. A smarter team would see this coming and adjust personnel accordingly. Not Benzo.
A catcher, Dalton Varsho! Fernando Tatis Jr. will probably be a good case study this season.
Back to Davis, he can really hit, imo. Just as is the case with what feels like so many others, it’ll be can he stay healthy and maintain it. We’re going to have to keep a “X Days since incident” counter for Davis HBP’s.
I don’t get the Bae in CF love either. Isn’t his arm pretty suspect? If so, isn’t the outfield not the best place for that? At least as a full time guy there, maybe on occasion. I’m coming around more on the idea of him at second battling it out with Castro.
The least important aspect of a center fielder’s defense is his arm strength. Sure there could be moments where it might hurt but if a guy smokes a ball towards the gap the runner on first isn’t going full speed to third until he sees the ball drop. Very few plays at the plate occur from balls that are fielded by center fielder’s. It’s far more important to make a smart play and hit your cutoff man when playing center.
i honestly couldnt be less concerned about his first 140 PA in AA.
K rate was healthy. the ISO was healthy, meaning that the quality of contact was at least decent. 22 yrs old. no real reason to be alarmed about the skils.
he just got killed on BABIP. .244.
heck, maybe they need to put him in MLB asap where pitchers know how to hit the strike zone and not hit guys as much.
if you’re popping a 97 wrc+ despite a babip of .244, you’re doing pretty well.
Is a .244 BABIP while puling 54% of contact and popping up almost 40% of your fly balls earned or unlucky?
Some reaaallllyyy odd batted ball trends last year.
Is it a coincidence that Davis, Nick Gonzales and Travis Swaggerty are Pirate first round draft choices that have missed extended periods with injuries? Is there something in the ‘make-up’ of these players that the Pirates covet that’s at the heart of the issue? Are the Pirates treating these guys with ‘kid gloves?’ Gonzales and Swaggerty were at one time or another, top 100 prospects. Both have slipped from that exalted status to prospect purgatory. Will Davis follow? Is there a jinx, at work?
Considering the nature of how most of them acquired their injuries, I feel it’s mostly chalked up to Pirates dumb luck. Swaggerty was sliding back to 1B. Gonzales’ heel injury was rounding second (IIRC). And Davis was, well, probably could get him to move back a couple inches, but there were times even a guy with amazing command somehow lost one way inside.
Many of Davis’s injuries are the results of HBP too frequently. Same affliction that Starling Marte has had and still has.
Add in Lonnie White. Ya gotta wonder.
‘ The automated strike zone will be in Triple-A’
How will this affect Endy and Davis’ framing ability since, at this time, it is still required in the majors? Will they still be required to work on it and can it still be improved?
Folks pay way too much attention to small samples generally speaking, so when we do that in circumstances that are high stakes like a first round pick I always cringe. We have no idea what to expect yet. Davis is a 55 FV on FanGraphs and top 100 on every list. That’s all we need for now. Let him play and see what happens.
Not disagreeing, but the inability to stay healthy has gotten a large sample sized….. I think of a few lefty hitters that crouch the plate and we’re successful, Bonds, even Rizzo, but not many RH hitters come immediately to mind…Bagwell. If he is moved off the plate how much will not affect him, I’m rambling here trying to make a point and I’m not sure what that point is…..
I think RHHs are at risk of FBs from RHPs on the inner half that run. And that’s a fairly common occurrence. Maybe Tank just needs to get better at recognizing those and getting out of the way?
In a way that was my point, not many successful RH with that approach.
That’s the first thing I noticed watching him live – that stance. Fugly as any stance I can remember.
When we draft Crews we’ll have another player with an odd stance. Then there is T. Johnson. His max effort swing put him on the ground!
I’ve seen the vidoes of him falling on the ground swinging multiple times.
He’s certainly a good prospect, but he’s not going to be in the Show as a 20 year old.
You can already see him making adjustments between the complex and Bradenton, as an 18 yo. Special kid.
This thing where we watch a couple clips and deduce flaws anytime a kid misses is really, really f*cked. You could convince yourself Mike friggin Trout doesn’t stand a chance using this method.
I didn’t deduce him screwing himself into the ground as being flawed. Simply acknowledged seeing it.
I’ll bet you multiple beers, he’s not in the Show as a 20-year-old.
Special? yes. Generational? No
Of course, I hope I’m dead wrong.
Oh yeah he’s not gonna be in the show literally at 20, I thought that was just a euphemism for generally being a fast riser.
Yep yep yep. We have no idea what this guy is gonna be.
Can’t you really say that for most players? Even some young veterans.
Just look at how Keller, Castro, Hayes, and Suwinski are looked at compared to May 1 of last year. Not to mention Endy and Ortiz.
Predicting how a young player will grow/stagnate/regress is akin to how Weathermen predicted the next 5 days of weather before radar and computers. Often wrong.
Yes correct that’s what’s making people nervous.
Well, when it’s injury-related that’s hardly ideal, but it’s a different thing from performance-related questions. Unless you consider playing goalie with every inside pitch performance-related.
I think the issue is that at this point one is clearly affecting the other.
The defense – not only framing – is just plain bad. He’s a big, stiff dude who visibly struggles with blocking and throwing accuracy, and the injuries kept him from desperately needed reps.
With catcher all but crossed off, is there an argument for him having bigger upside than, say, Kyle Schwarber?
Very useful player, sure, but I don’t know that you’re gonna find a fanbase thrilled about maybe getting Kyle Schwarber at 1.1.
Tank is likely a better hitter than Schwarber.)
I’m not sure I see anything right now that indicates he’ll be a better hitter than Schwarber.
My opinion, that would be best case scenario. I’m just not seeing it.
Davis is smaller levered and very tightly wound.
I’m thinking the same too. I took a gander at Schwarber’s MiL numbers too. They’re pretty robust. I think Henry is better than what he showed in 22, but a lot of that depends on health and reps (especially defensively). We need to see it.
From 1990-2018 we had 17 top-10 picks and of those 17 the only player who will likely end up with more career WAR than Schwarber is Cole (Taillon has earned about the same WAR as Schwarber and who knows about Swaggerty). If we reduce it to top-5, then we had 9 such picks with only Cole and possibly Taillon being better picks. All to say, while Davis turning into a Schwarber-type would be disappointing, it also wouldn’t be a bad result.
Top pick for the Pirates is not the same as top pick in the entire draft.
So much of how he is viewed is tied to Solomento, Bubba, and others. Probably best to wait until’27/‘28 and grade the ‘21 draft as a whole.
Always good advice.
We are starting to see, though, what a long shot the strategy was to begin with.
Any team picking 1.1 has a pool big enough to sign two of them without even trying and three with just a little bit of maneuvering. They had to take the risk at 1.1 in order to sign ALL four of them, which begs the question of how many they have to hit on to be worth it.
Justified? Sure, but they get paid to be correct.
In my opinion they just have to hit on one of them and that one very specifically is Chandler. The way that draft unfolded it seemed as though every team knew Chandler had a price he needed or he was going to play football at Clemson and seemingly every other team wasn’t willing to stretch that far for him. Solometo, White and Kellington would fit in any team’s budget for sure but dropping 3 million on Chandler means you either pick him in the top 15 or so picks putting most of your eggs in that basket or you have to shave more than a million from slot value on your top pick.
Maybe not. If those guys blow out before 27, we won’t have to wait that long to say it sucked.
Definitely a party foul to be this much of a Debbie Downer this time of year. Gotta wait until at least mid-May for harsh reality comments.
End of April.
Yeah, who am I kidding.
Nah I’m jagging. I’m actually quite intrigued by Bubba and if he makes it and is a productive player along with Davis (who still looks like he should be able to contribute in some fashion) that situation is a win. Even if we get next to nothing from Tony Sol. And that’s probably the best we can hope for.