The Pittsburgh Pirates’ handling of Henry Davis continues to be one of the more perplexing storylines as the team enters the final stretch of the 2023 regular season.
In the 2021 draft, the Pirates made Davis the first-overall pick when they selected the then-catcher out of the University of Louisville.
Throughout his minor league career, Davis has spent the majority of his time behind the plate. He’s not yet a polished backstop, but he does have a plus-plus arm, giving him a weapon on defense.
While Davis has been catching for most of his career, the Pirates are essentially playing him solely as a right fielder in the big leagues.
The results in right field haven’t been great, and it’s understandable why. Davis is learning a brand new position on the fly at the game’s highest level. Prior to his promotion to Pittsburgh, Davis had only played a total of 15 games in right field as a minor leaguer, 13 of which came this year.
In 45 games as a right fielder with the Pirates, Davis has accumulated minus-six defensive runs saved and has committed four errors in 60 chances.
Despite his struggles as a right fielder, the Pirates still have not shown a willingness to play Davis at his natural position.
I get part of the reason. Fellow top prospect Endy Rodriguez is also on the big league roster and overall, he’s done a nice job with the glove. Even so, you’d think manager Derek Shelton and the coaching staff would find ways to get Davis some in-game reps at catcher — at least here and there.
Instead, Davis has appeared in a total of two innings in two games with his catching gear on.
It is particularly curious considering general manager Ben Cherington had this to say leading up to the trade deadline:
“Assuming he’s healthy, I believe we will see him behind the plate after the deadline,. Obviously, we will leave that to Shelty and the rest of our group regarding exactly when that will happen and how to prepare him for that.” I think that would be one of the things we’d like to see happen after the deadline.”
Fast forward to the present and the team traded fellow catcher Austin Hedges to the Texas Rangers, yet Davis’ reps as one-half of a battery mate have not increased.
We’re now over two weeks removed from the trading deadline and in those two weeks, Davis has caught one inning. It came in the bottom of the eighth inning of the Pirates’ 14-1 blowout loss against the Milwaukee Brewers on Aug. 3.
The Pirates’ words have not matched their actual handling of Davis.
On numerous occasions, the Pirates’ brass has reiterated that they feel Davis is still a catcher. If that’s the case, then why hasn’t he caught?
At this point, I think it’s safe to question if the Pirates truly believe that Davis is a backstop long-term. It’s a fair question, even if Rodriguez is the catcher of the future — I guess even the present.
If the belief is that Davis still is, he needs to spend time behind the plate. I can’t say I’ve seen too many baseball players be labeled a certain position on defense without actually spending time there.
I firmly believe that Davis needs to work on his defensive game. I also believe that at least some of that work needs to happen in games.
It’s not like the Bucs are currently in a pennant chase. They can afford to go through the growing pains of him behind the plate, as they are currently with him in right field.
Sure, Davis is getting work in behind the scenes, but is it really enough to make up for the lack of game reps? I have a hard time believing it’s enough, anyways.
Which brings us to an even bigger question — If Davis isn’t going to catch in the big leagues, where does he play?
Is he capable of improving his defense in right field, maybe with an entire offseason to practice? It makes sense. Davis has shown flashes in right field at times and by all accounts he has a strong work ethic. Maybe a chance to catch his breath will do the trick. He certainly has the arm to stick there.
Or, should the Pirates consider moving him somewhere else, such as first base?
Based off of what Cherington and Shelton have said, the handling of their number one pick in his first taste of the major leagues has been a bit of a head scratcher, and it seems like it will continue in the season’s homestretch.