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Pirates Encouraged by Early Returns From Henry Davis at Indianapolis

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Henry Davis, Pittsburgh Pirates

After a strong spring showing, Henry Davis looked primed for a breakout season with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2024.

Spring training numbers are always to be taken with a grain of salt, but Davis hit .310 with a 1.067 OPS and four home runs. He would also be handling the primary catching duties with fellow young catcher Endy Rodríguez out for the year. 

The early promise turned out to be a mirage as Davis stumbled right out of the gate and never found a groove. In 23 games to start the year, Davis hit a lowly .162 with slugging percentage hovering around the Mendoza Line – or whatever the threshold is called for slugging – at .206. He recorded only three extra-base hits, all of which were doubles.

The slump to start the year resulted in the Pirates optioning their 2021 No. 1 overall pick to Triple-A Indianapolis in early May, where he has remained ever since. 

Since being optioned, Davis has been performing at an exceptionally high clip and the Pirates are encouraged by what they’ve seen from the 24-year-old.

“The offensive performance has been strong,” said Pirates general manager Ben Cherington. “We’re seeing progress, even aside from the OPS and what the surface results look like. We’re seeing progress in the specific area he’s been attacking down there.”

Through 15 games with Indianapolis since he was optioned, Davis has slashed .315/.456/.741 with five doubles, six home runs, 14 RBIs and only 12 strikeouts in 68 plate appearances.

As is the case with spring training numbers, determining how a player’s minor-league performance will translate to the big leagues isn’t an exact science. There are several factors that need to be considered in seeing what’s led to a player’s performance.

Cherington is taking everything into account.

You’re always trying to measure somehow the difference in the quality of the pitching, factor that into what we’re seeing,” said Cherington. “We’re seeing progress in a certain area. How much of that is improvement? How much of that is quality of pitching? Not easy to tease that out all the time. But we feel pretty confident in what we see that there is progress. We’re very confident that he’s focused on the right stuff.”

Though Davis still plays a role in the Pirates’ plans, his future might be a bit murky given his defensive deficiencies and the depth chart behind the plate.

In Davis’ absence, Joey Bart and Yasmani Grandal have been handling the catching responsibilities. Bart has so far been a savvy pick up for the Pirates. Grandal returned to the starting lineup on Friday after an injury scare and offers a steady veteran presence in the clubhouse. 

Though Grandal is only under contract for this season, Rodríguez will return to the field next season and finished last year as the Pirates’ No. 1 catcher.

Though Rodríguez’s return presents a longer-term dilemma, the Pirates aren’t putting a timetable on when Davis will return this season.

“Certainly we think he’s worthy of another shot,” Cherington explained. “It’s just a matter of when and what’s the right time for him, what’s the right time for the team. We hope that outcome happens. That’s the full expectation — at some point, that’ll happen. We don’t have any timeline for it right now.”

The biggest thing for Davis right now is to continue to instill belief that he can still be a valuable contributor in Pittsburgh. Whenever that next chance does come, there will be some added pressure on him to perform. The Pirates can’t be patient with him forever. 

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