When the Pittsburgh Pirates selected Henry Davis with the first overall pick in 2021, they got the top college bat available, and someone who could potentially rise quickly through the system.
Since being drafted, Davis has dealt with multiple injuries that has limited him to just 67 games in a little more than a year in the minors.
After spending six games in Greensboro before an injury cut the rest of his season short, Davis started there again in 2022. In just 22 games and 100 plate appearances, the catcher slashed .341/.450/.585, making quick work of High-A pitching.
While his strikeout rate was just 18%, he did have a borderline swing and miss problem. During his time in Greensboro, he had a 12.6% swinging strike rate, nothing too serious, but could be seen as a concern if it jumped up any more, especially moving up to a new level.
You can see some of the swings and misses he had, with the video above from a series against the Rome Braves early in the season. There was a lot of stuff on the outer half of the strike zone he missed, and sometimes the way he loads his hand for his swing looks like it sets him up to be late on those pitches as well.
One of the best things you can hope to see from one of your prospects is them making adjustments, especially as the season progresses.
Most of Davis’ numbers you can make a case to be a result of a small sample size, but even with the jump to Altoona, he actually decreased his swinging strike rate down to 10.5% in his 136 Double-A plate appearances.
The overall numbers weren’t great, slashing a total of .207/.324/.379, as Davis also saw his line drive rate get cut in half with the promotion, going from 28% down to 14%. Of course, he dealt with multiple injuries, the kind that he had to likely fight through the rest of the season, even when he came back.
Looking at him hitting, you can see the upside, and some of the adjustments he made. In the video below you can see him taking some of those pitches he swung and missed at in Greensboro the other way, with power as well at times.
One thing about Davis, and this goes back to the added load in his swing, is that he never gets cheated out of a baseball when he makes contact. Exit velocity numbers weren’t openly available in Greensboro or Altoona, but we did get a small portion of data from the five games he played in Bradenton.
Across 10 batted ball events, three had crossed triple digits, and half were ‘hard hit’ at at least 95 MPH.
Davis will always be a highly debated topic in the baseball circle. Certain expectations come from being the first overall pick, but looking back at the 2021 draft, there wasn’t really a true number one option available.
While maybe most of the top prospect attention went to the high school shortstops (Marcelo Mayer and Jordan Lawlar), Davis was absolutely in the mix as an option.
On a podcast for Baseball America, there was a mention of a Mike Napoli type of comp when it comes to potential contribution. While maybe that’s not the ideal comparison for a first overall pick, looking at the numbers he put up over his career (.246/.346/.475 with an overall 119 wRC+), that also included eight season’s of 20 or more home runs, it doesn’t actually seem so bad especially with the crapshoot the draft can be.
Davis has some work to do, and needs to stay on the field to get it done but he’s shown the approach at the plate that would lead you to believe his rough looking base numbers were more of a result from his wrist injury, as opposed to something to be worried about.
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.
I always assumed that Davis must really crowd the plate to get hit and injured so much. But in watching these videos it doesn’t appear to be the case. Really bad luck ?
My biggest concern with Davis is the idea that health is a skill and Davis’s injuries certainly seem predictable. OTOH, the nature of his injuries, unlike someone who has repeated, say, hamstring or oblique injuries, is something that should be fixable. But if he adjusts his batting stance to reduce the HBP’s, will it have a negative effect on his hitting?
After what happened last year, he has to adjust his stance right? You get hit a couple dozen times with an open stance that ends with you hovering above the plate… he’s going to have to either back off or close his stance. You cannot develop as a hitter or a catcher if you don’t get the time.
I’m as worried about what that stance means when he’s seeing 95+ on the inside corner every at bat in the show as I am about his health. There’s a reason you don’t see big leaguers set up at the extremes.
Good luck kid.
Wow 67 games in pro ball and already giving him the hook at catcher. Patience grass hopper.
Move him to 1B. Let’s go!
is there any way to map his homeruns against PNC Park?
I like Davis the hitter and I think he will be a very good one, Davis the catcher…..well he shouldn’t. Base on the scouting I’ve read he doesn’t belong there, and framing is not the main issue so auto ump won’t help. Not saying that he shouldn’t get anymore reps behind the plate, but will like to see him spend more time in RF.
I agree with you that the reports aren’t stellar. having said that I would sit him at catcher almost every day until it plays himself out of that chance. If he meets the Napoli comp mentioned in the article and he can catch 50-60 games a year with the others mostly at DH, then that is not a bad outcome but am hoping for more. As soon as he becomes basically an emergency catcher / DH / OF? then the Napoli comp does not seem as pleasing.
Good article Anthony.
I don’t think many fans are too concerned about Davis’ ability to hit. He’s definitely going to be a plus power hitter. And hopefully have a decent average and OBP, too.
His goals for 2023 should be playing in a minimum of 120 games, and being at least a league average defensive Catcher measured by DRS. Truthfully, I’m not even sure they publish defensive metrics in MiLB. So it might be easier to see if he’s improved if sources like Fangraphs increase his defensive rating during the season after scouts have a chance to watch him this year.
Wow! A Hitter with a comparatively low K rate? If Henry can stay healthy, I think his bat will find a home in Pgh. Whether at C, 1b or OF or DH,
Health is about the only thing that will prevent him from being a fixture in Pirates lineup.