Pirates pick catcher Henry Davis No. 1 overall

July 12th, 2021

Henry Davis got the call he’d been waiting to hear for nearly a lifetime about an hour before the Draft began in Denver on Sunday night. He couldn’t tell anyone, but he didn’t hide it well, as his family immediately knew something was up. 

“My mom actually picked it up right away,” Davis said. “… When she hugged me, she was like, ‘You know something is up.’ And I was like, ‘Yep.’”

What did Davis know? Something life-changing: The Pirates were going to select him with the first overall pick in the 2021 MLB Draft. The Louisville catcher became the fifth No. 1 overall pick by the club and the first since Gerrit Cole in 2011.

“I’m just honored, honestly,” Davis said. “I’ve got a lot of amazing people in my life who have helped make this possible, so credit to them. I’m very excited.”

Davis, the top catcher on the board, was ranked the No. 5 overall Draft prospect by MLB Pipeline. He's the second catcher in the past three years to go No. 1 overall, with the O's selecting Adley Rutschman with their top pick in the 2019 Draft.

This is not the first time Davis has received Draft interest from the Pirates. As one of the top prep catchers in New York in the 2018 Draft, scouts knew about him, but he had a strong college commitment. The Bucs were the only team to inquire about him, though it would have been likely as a Day 2 pick.

Going to Louisville turned out to be a great decision, and accolades followed. Davis was a finalist for the Buster Posey Award as college baseball’s top catcher in Division I, he earned first-team All-American honors from Baseball America and the American Baseball Coaches Association this season and he was a semifinalist for the 2021 Golden Spikes Award.

What jumps off the charts about Davis is his strength, which translates into a 70-grade arm tool on the 20-80 scouting scale. It allowed him to throw out 34 percent of would-be basestealers during his first two seasons at Louisville. There are some questions regarding Davis’ receiving skills, though he polished them in his junior year at Louisville.

“We know he’s going to put the work in to do that,” Pirates general manager Ben Cherington said of Davis improving defensively. “He’s just a learner, how much he keeps improving and has done that since high school.”

Some first-round hopefuls struggled offensively this season, but not Davis. He recorded a .370/.482/.663 slash line with 15 homers and 10 stolen bases for the Cardinals in a strong Atlantic Coast Conference.

At the plate, the strength that Davis possesses is apparent not just by his exit velocities and home run totals, but also by the sound of the ball off his bat. It’s just different. In a game against North Carolina on May 14, Davis hit a home run that was projected at 450 feet. When he made contact, the impact created a sharp ring with two deep, booming echoes.

“And when that one lands,” one broadcast announcer said, “we’ll let you know.”

Where does that strength come from? Well, part of it comes from Davis’ work ethic. He was a gym rat at Louisville, sneaking time between class and practice to put in extra work in the weight room.

On top of power, the right-handed-hitting catcher has elite bat-to-ball ability, with more walks than strikeouts this year and for his career -- a trait which Cherington has consistently sought during his tenure.

“Obviously, we dig deep on this stuff,” Cherington said. “You can look at his performance against better pitching, against better velocity. It held up really well, no matter how you slice it up.”

Neither Davis nor the Pirates expect Davis to transition away from catching. He grew up wanting to be like Yadier Molina and Buster Posey, catchers who contribute both ways and, most of all, win.

“I love to catch, I love being able to contribute every pitch,” Davis said. “So for me, doing everything I can off the field and on the field during practice -- what I do every day to be the best baseball player and the best catcher I can be -- is my goal every day.”

Though he’s yet to take a professional at-bat, Davis already has some experience catching MLB-caliber arms, and not only 2020 first-rounders Reid Detmers and Bobby Miller at Louisville.

In 2020, Adam Ottavino posted an Instagram story of him throwing into a net during baseball’s shutdown. Davis, home in New York, sent him a DM offering assistance. Ottavino agreed, then Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes joined, and Davis got an experience of a lifetime.

“Getting better is always good, but the lessons I learned off the field from them -- two guys who have done it at a high level for a long time -- that’s the stuff I’ll never forget,” Davis said.

If everything goes to plan, it won’t be too long until Davis is catching Major Leaguers every day and helping Pittsburgh contend.

“Everybody in the organization, it was clear they’re all chasing the same thing, and they’re chasing greatness for the Pirates,” Davis said. “They see the vision where they can be great, they can win World Series, and just being able to contribute a teeny bit going toward that goal, I’m super excited.”