Former first-overall pick Henry Davis will return to his natural position behind the dish in 2024, says Pirates manager Derek Shelton (as relayed by Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette). Davis began his professional career as a backstop but transitioned into an outfield role this past year. Throughout his first few months of big league action, he started 49 games in right field and played just two innings at catcher.
Davis has never been the strongest defender, and he lost out on playing time in 2023 to defensive wizard Austin Hedges, fellow young backstop Endy Rodríguez, and breakout backup catcher Jason Delay. All three provided Pittsburgh with positive defensive value behind the plate, per FanGraphs and Baseball Savant, and with so many capable catchers on the roster, it’s not hard to see why the Pirates were hesitant to drop Davis into the mix. Moreover, Shelton also mentioned that a right hand strain in mid-August prevented the 24-year-old from getting a chance to catch at the end of the year.
However, Davis will be more valuable and productive for the Pirates long-term if he can stick at catcher; if he reaches his offensive upside, he could be one of the best-hitting backstops in the game. For precisely that reason, catching will be the “focal point” for Davis in 2024, per Shelton. He could still see time at DH or in right field, but his manager is planning to give him a legitimate opportunity to develop his catching skills at the big league level.
In other news from around the NL Central…
- After signing top prospect Jackson Chourio to a record-breaking contract extension, the Brewers are listening to trade offers for the rest of their young outfielders, reports Jon Heyman of the New York Post. While Heyman doesn’t go into much detail about any potential trade offers on the table, he names Sal Frelick, Garrett Mitchell, Joey Wiemer, Tyrone Taylor and Blake Perkins as the cost-controlled outfielders Milwaukee could be willing to sell. With Christian Yelich a lock in left field and Chourio the favorite to start in center, the Brewers have a bevy of talented outfielders and only one more spot to fill in the starting lineup. Given the team’s need for an impact bat and starting pitching depth, the Brewers could trade from an area of strength to address those concerns.
- The Reds are not planning to trade second baseman Jonathan India this winter, according to president of baseball operations Nick Krall (per Mark Sheldon of MLB.com). However, they could give him a chance to play a new position as the team attempts to break up a logjam in the infield. Specifically, Krall suggests that India could “maybe” play some first base in 2024. The 2021 NL Rookie of the Year has not played a defensive position aside from second base since the 2019 Arizona Fall League season, and he has never played first in his professional career. However, with Elly De La Cruz at shortstop, Noelvi Marte at third base, and Matt McLain looking like a good fit at second – not to mention Spencer Steer, who has played all four infield positions in his pro career – the Reds will need to get creative to fit India into the lineup. Cincinnati has no shortage of options at first base either, including Steer, Christian Encarnacion-Strand, and Tyler Stephenson, but the more flexible India can be, the better his chances of earning regular playing time.