The Pittsburgh Pirates are in a unique position in that two of their top prospects play the same position and are both roughly on the same timeline.
Endy Rodriguez and Henry Davis are both primarily catchers and both players come with high praise. Rodriguez checks in as the Pirates’ second-best prospect and Davis is just one spot behind him, according to MLB Pipeline.
Both players could realistically reach the big leagues at some point during the 2023 season. Rodriguez is the primary catcher for Triple-A Indianapolis while Davis can be found behind the plate at Double-A Altoona.
Davis has been off to a red-hot start to the season, leading some to ask when a promotion to Triple-A could take place. Through 25 games on the year, Davis is hitting .308 with a 1.100 OPS, eight home runs and five steals.
“Henry likes to make things really difficult, for sure. He’s swung the bat so well. He’s run the bases so well and his catching has improved. I think that’s the toughest part. There are only six games a week. We’d like both (Rodriguez and Davis) to catch four or five or either sometimes in the future six of those games just for their development,” Pirates’ farm director John Baker said.
Rodriguez, on the other hand, has had his struggles out of the gate. Through his first 23 games, he has posted a .734 OPS. In his defense, Rodriguez did miss a bit of time earlier in the year with an elbow injury.
Even with Davis seemingly to jump up a level, don’t necessarily expect anything to happen just yet.
“For the start of the season we wanted them both to have the primary catcher role. Playing time is part of that but it’s also just a role on the team. There is something to being the lead catcher on a team and the role that is and the responsibility that comes with it. We wanted them both to be that guy,” general manager Ben Cherington said.
Splitting catching duties is probably a no-go for the Pirates’ plan right now. Despite playing other positions — Davis has been seeing time in right field — both players are still viewed as catchers-first.
Handling responsibilities behind the plate is a tough job. It’s a job that requires plenty of experience, something both guys need more of in the eyes of the Pirates’ brass.
“Endy, until the second half of the season last year, wasn’t catching every day. The goal for Endy Rodriguez is to stay healthy and catch as much as possible. I think the game is gonna teach him what he needs to know,” Baker said.
Davis, too, needs more experience as he’s only caught 62 games in his minor league career after being selected with the first pick in the 2021 MLB Draft.
It seems obvious that the Pirates’ sole focus in the development of two of their top prospects is improving their defensive and game-calling abilities that comes with experience — even more so than what they do with the bat.
It does make some level of sense. Davis’ main upside is with the bat, and it’s easily seen so far this season. Rodriguez, despite his early-season struggles, has hit at seemingly every level he’s been at leaving little cause for concern.
It also makes more sense when you consider Cherington views Double-A competition in a similar regard to Triple-A, as he’s alluded to in the past.
While the long-term outlook for how the organization will handle both players remains a bit murky, the immediate future looks a little bit more clear.
“We haven’t made any determination on exactly how long things will (go). We can look at that and revise it. We’re still at a point in the season where we’d like to see them both in that (primary catcher) role,” Cherington said.
At some point, we will see some motion. But, which domino will fall first?
Will Rodriguez get a promotion to Pittsburgh, resulting in Davis taking his place at Triple-A? Or, will Davis skip Triple-A alltogether and be the first of the two to the big leagues?
It will be interesting to see how this develops, and a case could be made for both sides of the argument.
For now, expect both catchers to remain where they are as Rodriguez and Davis look to be the lead backstop for their respective teams.