Endy Rodriguez and Henry Davis are the two best prospects in the Pittsburgh Pirates' Minor League system.
Regardless of how they were obtained by the organization, Davis and Rodriguez both have the same goal, to be premier catchers in the Major Leagues at PNC Park.
Rodriguez, 22, turns 23 on Friday and is slashing .239/.341/.413 in 28 games at Triple-A Indianapolis. In 109 at-bats, Rodriguez has totaled three doubles, two triples, four home runs, and 13 RBIs. He sustained a right forearm injury on April 20 and spent time on the seven-day injured list.
The Pirates’ 2022 Minor League Player of the Year hit 25 homers and drove in 95 runs en route to becoming one of baseball’s top prospects. He slashed .323/.407/.590 in 125 games spanning three levels between High-A and Triple-A. In 88 games to start the year in Greensboro, Rodriguez hit .302 with a .936 OPS and 16 homers plus 55 RBIs. Rodriguez got better at each level he advanced. The switch hitter dominated Double-A pitching to the tune of a .356 average and 1.120 OPS and drove in more runs (32) than games played (31). He also smacked 14 doubles and eight long balls in 138 at-bats before being promoted to Indianapolis for the final week and a half of the year. Rodriguez recorded 10 hits in 23 at-bats and finished the season with 60 walks compared to 101 strikeouts.
Primarily doing the catching duties, the young Buc has also appeared at first (four games), second (18), left field (14), and designated hitter (four) and displays the most position versatility between the two.
Davis was a magnet inside the batter’s box for opposing pitching last year, being plunked 20 times in 255 plate appearances. A wrist injury limited the former top pick to 59 games, primarily in High-A and Double-A. He hit 10 homers and drove in 42 runs while slashing .264/.380/.472 with a .852 OPS.
Flash forward to 2023, and Davis stands as the most productive minor leaguer in the farm system. He has already matched his home run total from last year and owns 33 hits, 22 RBIs, and a .297/.447/.631 slash line in 31 games. His 1.077 OPS is off the charts and indicates that he’s ready for advancement to Indy.
Davis played 17 games in the Arizona Fall League in 2022 - hitting a home run and driving in six - while still finding a way to be hit on seven occasions. Through 99 games in the minors, Davis owns 19 doubles, 23 homers, 71 RBIs, and an OPS of .947.
The reality is that once the first week or two of June comes along, a historical vantage point for top prospects to be recalled surrounding Super Two status, one of the two catchers will walk into the Pirates clubhouse. Barring any injuries, both could become staples in the Pirates' lineup and behind the plate.
Keeping Endy in Triple-A and Davis in Double-A is not too far-fetched to understand from a defensive standpoint, but the latter has nothing else to prove at the plate in Central PA. Rodriguez and Davis are not catching every single game for their respective clubs either and shifting positions on occasion. Why is that not a realistic alternative to output in Triple-A? They can even further learn from each other.
As the Pirates continue to fall further towards .500, a spark should be in order to revitalize the club. I won’t beat a broken record and demand an immediate promotion to the majors for either player - the reality of baseball contracts being what they are - but doesn’t a stepping stone toward the future make sense?
One will be the everyday catcher, while the other sees sporadic duties behind the dish when the other needs a breather, continuing to mold into a solid defender at another position. The likelihood is the highly-athletic Rodriguez shifting to the infield or an outfield corner while allowing Davis to stick to catching with a major offensive upside. Like it or not, automatic balls and strikes are coming in the near future. This takes one element out of Davis’ game that’s been knocked since being drafted while commanding a pitching staff remains the No. 1 priority.
Promoting Davis to Indianapolis is a no-brainer to both glean information off Rodriguez and vice versa. Now nearing the end of May, a promotion of either player to Pittsburgh appears weeks rather than months away. Giving the potential dynamic duo a taste of working together for 20 games before big league games isn’t so much a call to action but a no-brainer.