Over the course of the Pittsburgh Pirates lengthy rebuild, it sure looked like catching was going to be a strength of the next competitive team.
The Pirates acquired Endy Rodríguez from the New York Mets as part of a three-team trade which also included the San Diego Padres during the 2020-21 offseason. Once he joined the Pirates’ organization, Rodríguez soared up prospect lists and was considered one of the better prospects in baseball.
Six months after the Pirates acquired Rodríguez, they used the first overall selection in the 2021 draft on Henry Davis, a catcher from the University of Louisville. Davis joined Rodríguez as a top Pirates’ prospect.
In a perfect world, the Pirates would have two formidable catchers to help carry them back to contention. Alas, we are not living in a utopian society.
Just as it looked like the Pirates were primed to take a leap forward, they’ll have to do so without Rodríguez, who underwent elbow surgery that will result in him missing the 2024 season.
Rodríguez was projected to be the team’s starting catcher, but now that role will seemingly go to Davis, who caught just two innings as a big leaguer last season.
Despite the extremely small showing from last year, the Pirates have remained adamant that they still view Davis as a catcher long-term. That’s been the focus of Davis’ work so far this offseason.
“Working on it every day. Thankful to have (Mike) Rabelo not too far. Doing everything I can,” Davis said at PiratesFest. “Still an overall focus. Always trying to study and learn. Pick up different things I might be able to add, help contribute to the team,” he later added.
Even though Davis didn’t receive many game reps once he was promoted to Pittsburgh — most of his work came in right field — he did a lot of work behind the scenes.
Davis would frequently catch pitcher’s side work and bullpen sessions, something that could turn out to be crucial as the expected primary catcher.
“I would do everything I could and it was just a matter of whatever 100% was that day, do it,” Davis said. “Thankful for those, and especially more the conversations towards the end. Finding out what guys need, how I can help. Things like that were more beneficial there.”
There is plenty of work to be done as Davis grows as a catcher. If there wasn’t, the Pirates would have used him more behind the plate last season.
One of the things Davis is focused on is being able to adapt and cater to different pitchers on a case-by-case basis. Whether it’s setting up in the right spot or knowing when to call certain pitchers, every pitcher has their own preferences.
“I know there’s a lot of different ways and certain things are easier to measure than others, but at the end of the day, I’ll grade myself on if guys want to throw to me or not, and that’s a really good indicator of if you can really get on the same page as a guy,” he said. “Be able to do whatever an individual guy needs, because they’re all different.
“One might want a certain type of target. One might want another one. Being able to do different things will help in that nature.”
Though defense has been the focus for Davis this winter, he also wants to improve with the bat in his hands.
Davis has consistently hit well throughout his minor league career, but his first taste of the big leagues resulted in a lackluster showing.
In 62 games, the 24-year-old slashed .213/.302/.351 with 10 doubles, seven home runs and 24 RBIs. He’d like to wash that bad taste out of his mouth next year, and it starts with his offseason work.
“I think I liked nothing,” Davis said with a wry smile when asked about his offense last season. “”All around, just could be better, more consistent. The beauty in the age we play in is all the information is right in front of your face. Putting a good plan together for the offseason to be the best I’m capable of being on any given day, it’s the goal, and to keep that consistency.”
Maybe a return to his natural position will help take away some of the pressure while the bat is in his hands.
While his offense remains uncertain, there is one thing that is not. Get ready to see plenty of Davis in catcher’s gear next season.