What makes a player ready for the Major Leagues?
Is it shown in the numbers, where results are an indicator of talent? Is it through the eye test of that talent? Is it a mindset?
I’ve always had an exceptional ability at spotting Major League talent on the field. I can tell you that I’ve seen this from Endy Rodriguez and Henry Davis. But what will make each player a Major Leaguer? Ideally, one who can catch for the Pirates?
I had a chance to see Endy Rodriguez live in Altoona last year, and came away thinking he was the best prospect in the Pirates’ system. His focus is off the charts, with catching movements that seem to come second nature, and an incredible ability to track the ball at the plate.
The big concern that I’ve had about Rodriguez since that article has been sustainability. I saw him during one of the hottest stretches of his career. I also saw that he was perhaps relying on his active focus a bit too much. That’s a difficult concept to describe, and I’m actually going to dig into it during the next section.
What I will say about Rodriguez is that he has looked like the best catching prospect, with tools that are ahead of Davis, and a more natural feel for the position. Offensively, Rodriguez hasn’t repeated his success from last year, but is still hitting for a .737 OPS.
The Pirates just promoted Davis to Indianapolis, after starting him in Altoona to get plenty of playing time behind the plate. The focus for Davis was on his defense, locking down scouting reports, working on relationships with pitchers and staff, and trying to make everything more simple behind the plate.
“Simplifying everything,” said Pirates farm director John Baker, “So that it’s just easy for him to repeat it over and over again, so he doesn’t use a ton of energy so that he can have all that energy when he’s hitting.”
Pause for a second. Remember the comment about Endy’s focus from above?
Baker’s words highlight the exact issue: How much energy is being exerted. The skills from Rodriguez last year made him look like a Major League talent. It seemed unsustainable that he would be able to match that production without burning himself out on one side of the ball. Rodriguez made some huge strides behind the plate last year, but he was mostly in active focus mode during the process. That burns a ton of energy, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s why we’re seeing his offense dip at a higher level. It’s difficult to maintain such an active level of focus the entire game.
Davis, on the other hand, is behind Rodriguez from a skills standpoint. I would call Rodriguez a future MLB catcher based on skill alone. Davis could develop into a future MLB catcher. If the Pirates want Davis up in the majors this year, the more likely approach would be right field. I saw Davis in right field while in Altoona. He moved well, and navigated plays close to the wall with no issues. The Pirates could speed his bat up by moving him to the outfield, but the long-term dream is having Davis involved behind the plate.
“He just seems to be every time out a little bit better than he was before,” said Baker when I talked with him last month. “You know, sometimes it takes people a long time to develop into a really good catcher, you think about some of the timelines that guys had even super defensive prospects coming through systems. There’s just a lot to learn.”
Davis was in Altoona to help speed up his timeline by getting plenty of time behind the plate. He didn’t have many issues with the bat, hitting for a .980 OPS and ten homers. When I focused on the Altoona hitters last month, Davis was one of the more visually confident players at the plate.
A lot of the reports out of Altoona say that Davis made strides with his defense. I didn’t see him live in Altoona like I did with Rodriguez. I do wonder whether Davis might see his offensive numbers dip at the higher level, similar to Rodriguez, now that he has to focus on facing more advanced pitching, in addition to managing more advanced pitchers.
THE CATCHER OF THE FUTURE
If I were to make a prediction right now, Endy Rodriguez would be my pick for the Pirates’ catcher of the future. I’m not ruling out Davis, and I’m sure the Pirates will give him opportunities. Right field seems like a better fit for Davis, both in terms of getting him to the majors quicker, and maximizing his value.
Pirates fans are going to want to see one of these guys in the majors this summer. The Super Two topic clouds the discussions, and Ethan Hullihen did a great job breaking down the “deadline” related to that. According to Ethan’s numbers, if Super Two is the only factor keeping Rodriguez down right now, then we should see him in the next week.
What we tend to lose during this time period is the key difference between Major League talent and Major Leaguers.
Rodriguez has Major League talent. He has that at the plate and behind the plate. Davis absolutely has Major League talent at the plate. Being a Major Leaguer is more about experience and consistency.
This is where the Super Two debate gets frustrating. Very few prospects arrive with little to work on. The idea that Endy Rodriguez can come up and instantly be one of the best players on the team is an idea that exists in statistical based simulations and dreams of Pirates fans. It’s possible, but not probable. The same goes for Davis, Quinn Priester, and any other prospect expected to help this year. They could help, but no one should be counting on that help.
Currently, I’m not sure that the Pirates would see an upgrade from either of their catching prospects, considering their value system. The team values the veteran leadership from Austin Hedges, and the impact that has on the pitchers. Hedges will no doubt be guiding Rodriguez when he arrives. Prior to that, Jason Delay is having a great season, doing everything you’d hope for from Rodriguez.
Rodriguez can play second base, where the Pirates don’t have a set starter. Davis can play right field, where the Pirates don’t have a set starter. They could get either player into the majors without making them a dedicated catcher. I’m guessing we’ll get a preview this week of how that playing time might be divided up.
The Pirates have a winning record in early June, and they’ve got two prospects with Major League talent at the top level of the minors. I think it could backfire if the Pirates turned to either rookie over Hedges to handle the bulk of the 2023 catching duties. The versatility from each prospect could allow the Pirates to get them some MLB experience while easing them into MLB catching experience each week.
You’d like to see these guys help out in Pittsburgh in 2023, and I think that’s possible for each player outside of the catching position. What you really want to see is one of these two emerging as the catcher for 2024 and beyond. Ideally, both of them can be Major League catchers, and the Pirates can get creative with their catching role for a long time.+ posts
Tim is the owner, producer, editor, and lead writer of PiratesProspects.com. He has been running Pirates Prospects since 2009, becoming the first new media reporter and outlet covering the Pirates at the MLB level in 2011 and 2012. His work can also be found in Baseball America, where he has been a contributor since 2014 and the Pirates' correspondent since 2019.