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Perrotto: Pirates Have Botched Henry Davis’ Development

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Pittsburgh Pirates, Henry Davis

BRADENTON, Fla. — Scouting and player development are essential for any team that is not going to spend much money on players at the major-league level.

Vital if a franchise wants young players to produce at a low cost before they become too expensive to retain.

It is how the Tampa Bay Rays have defied massive odds to reach the postseason each of the last five years. It is why the Cleveland Guardians have been to the playoffs five times in the last eight seasons. And it is why the Baltimore Orioles won an American League-best 101 games last season and are poised to be regular postseason participants throughout the rest of the decade.

The Pirates, like all small-market/low-budget franchises, preach the importance of scouting and player development. Whenever anyone asks why the Pirates don’t use the revenue-sharing money from Major League Baseball on player payroll, the team responds that a significant amount of funds go to the scouting and player development departments.

Yet, in the case of Henry Davis, one can’t help but wonder how that money is helping either department.

It became crystal clear Wednesday when the Pirates began spring training with pitchers and catchers working out at Pirate City that Davis isn’t the franchise’s catcher of the present. He is also likely not the catcher of the future because the Pirates don’t trust him to play the position in the big leagues.

And it is becoming obvious that the Pirates misfired when they used the first overall pick of the 2021 amateur draft on Davis.

The sad part is this isn’t all Davis’ fault.

You don’t have to be around Davis long to understand how much he loves baseball and cares about trying to become the best player possible. He has an outstanding work ethic, a team-first attitude, and seemingly no ego.

Davis is an easy person to root for.

Manager Derek Shelton dropped a bit of surprising news following Wednesday’s workout when he said veteran Yasmani Grandal will be the Pirates’ primary catcher when the season begins.

Officially signed to a one-year, $2.5-million contract on Wednesday, Grandal had minus-11 defensive runs saved last season. He generated almost no interest on the free-agent market following a season in which he hit .234/.309/.339 with eight home runs in 118 games for the 101-loss Chicago White Sox.

Grandal has had a fine career and still has value as a potential second-string catcher and mentor. However, the fact that he is the Pirates’ guy behind the plate is an indictment of what the Pirates think of Davis. He will compete with Jason Delay and Ali Sanchez and seems almost certainly headed to Triple-A Indianapolis to start the season.

So, why did the Pirates feel Davis was worth being the No. 1 pick three years ago and given a $6.5-million signing bonus if they didn’t think he could catch in the big leagues? And why doesn’t his defense get better?

It was obvious the Pirates had no faith in putting Davis behind the plate last season when he caught just two innings in his rookie year. I’ve never been a farm director but I find it impossible to develop a young catcher by playing him almost exclusively in right field.

Davis is 24, so it’s too early to completely write him off. Yet he also isn’t a young kid.

Davis is at a career crossroads, and it doesn’t look good for a guy whose development has been badly mishandled by a team that supposedly sinks so many financial resources into that area. It also makes it fair to wonder how many other Pirates’ prospects are on their way to being busts.

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