Former top picks, potential future battery, develop early rapport

February 14th, 2024

BRADENTON, Fla. – Wednesday was the first day of pitcher and catcher workouts at Pirate City. But for and , their work together started a few weeks ago, when the backfields were much quieter.

Skenes has bounced around this winter -- from his alma mater at LSU to the University of Georgia, then back home in Fullerton, Calif., and on to Bradenton, Fla. At that stop in Florida, he and Davis got to work together, offering a sneak peek into a potential future battery between the 2021 and 2023 first overall Draft picks.

“He's the type of catcher you want to throw to also because he likes to talk and think the game [through],” Skenes said at his locker about Davis. “It's a learning experience for both of us, which is nice because we can accelerate the process that for a lot of people would start now, but we got to do it earlier in the offseason."

There’s a good chance that the two will call themselves teammates at some point this season. Skenes is ranked by MLB Pipeline as the top pitching prospect in the game, an honor that should make his eventual Major League debut one of the most anticipated for a Pirates pitcher in over a decade. It’s not a huge concern for him, however.

"Honestly, it's kind of just words,” Skenes said. “I've got to go out there and prove it. It's cool to have other people think that, but it doesn't matter at the end of the day. It's about executing and winning baseball games.”

That win-first mindset is music to Davis’ ears.

“I love how [Skenes] goes about his day,” Davis said. “It’s all business. You can keep a very serious atmosphere when he’s on the field. That’s how we get better, find something to work on every day. Off the field, he can just be a normal guy.”

Since he was promoted to the Majors last June, Davis has been very vocal that his driving concern is being part of a winner in Pittsburgh. Last year, that meant the majority of his playing time came as a right fielder rather than as his native catcher.

But with Endy Rodríguez out for the season, it does open up more playing time behind the plate. The team announced the Yasmani Grandal signing Wednesday, and manager Derek Shelton says the veteran will be one of the team’s two catchers.

It sounds like Davis will have to earn his spot behind the plate, but he will have the opportunity.

“[Davis] has gotten better,” Shelton said. “The one challenge that we gave to Henry at the end of the year last year was we said, 'Hey, you're going to come into camp, you're going to catch.' I think he's taken that full throttle. … Very pleased with the progress he's made.”

For Davis, he welcomes the competition and chance to catch, but his priority is on winning first.

“I just want to win, honestly,” Davis said. “That’s more than any personal desire, doing what I can to help the team win. I want it to be clear that I can do anything asked of me and do it to the best of my ability. I should’ve done it much better than I did last year but that’s the goal.”

There are different ways to build a winning team, but having two high profile young players behind the plate and on the mound is a good way to jumpstart it, even if it took more losses than they wanted to land them.

“I'm ready to not have No. 1 picks,” Shelton said after a chuckle. “I think we've transitioned away from it. I'm really excited about the two guys we have taken in that spot and what their future is gonna hold and the fact that they are Pirates.”

It also helps that while Skenes and Davis are two of the headliners of this Spring Training team, they are far from the only parts of this young core that they hope can elevate to becoming a contender soon.

"It's cool, but I don't think we're the only ones either, in terms of being high-profile,” Skenes said. “We've got a lot of really talented players here. They all have something to offer in terms of knowledge. Bits and pieces I can take from them, and hopefully they can take from me.

"As cool as it is to be here with Henry, there's a lot of other cool guys to be here with also."