The Pirates are preparing to call up Henry Davis to the majors on Monday, Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports (Twitter link). Davis is expected to make his MLB debut in the game against the Cubs.
Selected with the first overall pick of the 2021 draft, Davis will be making a pretty quick trip to the majors, though it’s hard to argue that the catcher isn’t ready. Davis has been crushing the ball at every level, including a .286/.432/.514 slash line over 45 plate appearances at Triple-A. Though Davis was only recently promoted to Triple-A and has only 10 games under his belt at the top minor league level, the Pirates have seen enough to believe he is ready to contribute in the Show.
The timing of the promotion can’t be overlooked, as if Davis remains on the big league roster for the remainder of the season, he’ll only amass 105 days of Major League service time. This all but ensures that he won’t achieve Super Two status, and thus won’t gain an extra year of arbitration eligibility. Given how the Pirates surely feel Davis can be a cornerstone player for years to come, it perhaps isn’t surprising that the small-market team already has an eye on the catcher’s future price tag, assuming he lives up to expectations as a future star. Finances also factored into the Bucs’ selection of Davis in the first place, as he signed for a $6.5MM bonus that was well below the slot value attached to the first overall pick.
Davis was a consensus top-100 prospect entering the season, with Keith Law (who had Davis 30th), Baseball Prospectus (46th), MLB Pipeline (57th) and Baseball America (73rd) all ranked him amongst the game’s top minor leaguers. Law cited Davis’ wrist injuries in 2022 and his need to improve against offspeed pitching, but Law was perhaps highest of the pundits on the Louisville product’s potential because Law believes Davis will be able to stick at catcher — far from a universal opinion among scouts.
While Davis has played some right field during his young pro career, that could be less a reflection of his defense than the fact that Pittsburgh also has another top catching prospect in Endy Rodriguez. Because Rodriguez can also play the outfield as well as second place, there’s a chance that neither of the Pirates’ “catchers of the future” ultimately end up as catchers, though having both players gives the Bucs some flexibility in determining the best path for both players. Davis’ plus hitting ability makes him valuable wherever he lines up on the field, though it would naturally have the most impact coming from the catcher position.
Austin Hedges and Jason Delay have mostly split catching duties in Pittsburgh this season, with Hedges contributing his usual excellent defense but next to nothing at the plate, while Delay has hit .304/.371/.418 over 91 PA. Since the Pirates obviously aren’t bringing Davis up to sit him on the bench, it creates an interesting short-term issue for the Pirates in determining which catcher stays. Delay still has three minor league options so the likeliest scenario is that he is sent to Triple-A while Hedges stays as a glove-first complement and perhaps a defensive mentor to Davis. Should Davis establish himself as a big leaguer, Delay might become an interesting trade chip for the Pirates to market at the trade deadline.
It’s a whole lot to ask that Davis can provide an Adley Rutschman-esque impact on the Pirates lineup, replicating how Rutschman’s promotion almost instantly sparked the Orioles from rebuilding team to contender in 2022. However, the Pirates have a 34-35 record but are only 1.5 games out of first place in the NL Central and 3.5 games out of a wild card berth. Given the compact nature of the National League standings, the Pirates still have a chance of mounting a playoff push, but at the very least the team has already shown that their rebuilding status is over.