The Pittsburgh Pirates received a blow earlier in the offseason when it was revealed that Endy Rodríguez underwent Tommy John surgery and as a result, will miss the entire 2024 season.
Rodríguez was one of the Pirates’ top prospects before he graduated from his prospect status during his debut campaign last season.
With Rodríguez out of the picture for the coming season, the Pirates will have to rely on Henry Davis to do the bulk of the catching work in his absence.
While it makes sense logistically — Davis was drafted No. 1 overall by the Pirates in 2021 as a backstop — he caught just two innings as a big leaguer during his rookie season last year.
Davis’ extremely limited sample behind the plate last year with Pittsburgh was due to a couple of factors. One was an injury to his hand in August, which eliminated the chance of spending more time in catcher’s gear. The other reason, and perhaps more notable one, was the Pirates desire for him to get more behind-the-scenes work before using him in actual games.
We won’t know the Pirates’ confidence level in Davis’ defensive abilities until spring training begins next month. Even if he shows some level of improvement, the Pittsburgh Pirates could be forced to rely more on Jason Delay behind the plate.
Delay appeared in 70 games last season with the Pirates and showed improvement from his first go-around in the big leagues in 2022.
The 28-year-old hit .251 with a .666 OPS with 11 doubles, a homer and 18 RBIs across 187 plate appearances. Though the numbers aren’t anything special, they’re at least serviceable for a defensive-first catcher.
Speaking of his defense, Delay established a strong reputation behind the plate and has turned into someone the pitching staff trusts. He more or less became staff ace Mitch Keller’s personal catcher down the stretch once Austin Hedges was traded at the deadline.
All things considered, Delay served in his role well.
“I think I certainly showed that I’m capable of doing it. I still don’t feel like I performed to the best of my ability, particular over the course of the season. I think I had a really good start. It’s just figuring out how to maintain that throughout the year,” Delay said when meeting with the media at PiratesFest. “Obviously it’s a really long season. Just trying to maintain that level of performance and not taper off…
“The staff and the guys on the team trust me back there. That goes a long way. Playing behind Hedges, which I’ve said many times, really helped me with the pitch-calling and the leadership aspect of it. I feel good about going into this next season with all of those things.”
Now, the man who nearly walked away from the game prior to making his debut in 2022, looks primed for an even bigger role in his third season.
The road has been a windy one for Delay to get to this point, but the experience is paying off as he moves forward in his career.
“I think confidence goes a really long way in this game. It was something that I worked heavily on in the offseason,” Delay explained. “Getting reps. The more you play, you can get into a little bit of a rhythm. Experience, that kind of goes hand in hand with confidence. The first year I was up, everything was kind of new. Second year, I had seen it before. Gaining a little bit of confidence and any little edge you can get certainly helps.”
As things currently stand, Delay will be in a competition with Ali Sánchez this spring. The Pittsburgh Pirates signed Sánchez to a split-contract this winter, which put him on the 40-man roster.
Though there will be a battle to backup Davis in the spring, Delay is focused on what he can control.
“I have no idea (what will happen). I’m not gonna worry about it. I’m just going to go into spring training and do the best I can,” he said.