Henry Davis spent the offseason mostly doing individual work at his family’s home in Bedford, New York, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But he did receive a few opportunities to work with professional baseball players during the downtime. The University of Louisville catcher reached out to major-league pitchers Matt Barnes of the Boston Red Sox and Adam Ottavino of the New York Yankees and offered to catch bullpen sessions if they needed a catcher.
Davis caught bullpens for both pitchers. Ottavino also put Davis in contact with Yankees catcher Kyle Higashioka, who served as ace Gerrit Cole’s personal catcher last season. Higashioka gave Davis advice on his receiving and overall defensive skills.
This spring, Davis hopes the work he put in during the offseason will allow him to build off his first two successful seasons at Louisville.
Expectations are high for Davis this season. Pro scouts project the junior catcher to be a potential top-10 pick in July’s MLB draft.
“It is rewarding,” Davis said. “I have always believed in my abilities and believed I was going to be the guy that I have become before anyone else saw it. Getting a little taste of the draft attention is rewarding.”
Davis played immediately as a freshman in 2019. He posted respectable numbers at the plate in his first season, hitting .280 with five doubles, three home runs and 23 RBIs in 45 games. He also showed notable plate discipline, striking out 18 times while drawing 13 walks in 132 at-bats.
Last spring, Davis was off to an encouraging start, hitting .372 with five doubles, three home runs and 13 RBIs in 14 games, until the pandemic caused the season to end prematurely. Davis displayed even better plate discipline than his first year, drawing eight walks and striking out just four times in 43 at-bats.
Davis also has caught highly-talented pitchers during his first two years, including 2020 first-round picks Reid Detmers and Bobby Miller. The experiences he’s received catching talented pitchers with premium arsenals has helped his development behind the plate.
“The best players are the ones who make adjustments quickly,” Davis said. “When you are catching arms like Bobby Miller or Glenn Albanese and guys with power stuff and legit breaking balls, like Jack Perkins, you have to be on your game every single time. The challenge has made me better.”
Davis is a 6-foot-2, 215-pound right-handed hitter who uses all parts of the field, possesses respectable raw power, and an above-average approach at the plate. He has strong strike zone disciple but is aggressive and tries to jump on mistake pitches early in the count.
Davis’ best traits come on the defensive side. He is athletic and has above-average arm strength. In his first two years at Louisville, he has thrown out 34% of would-be base stealers.
Although Davis doesn’t call his own game, he has a strong understanding of pitch sequencing. He believes his ability to handle a pitching staff is his biggest strength.
“I really feel like that something that gets overlooked is my work with the pitching staff,” Davis said. “You deal with so many personalities and you can’t be this monotone, same guy for each one if you want to get the most out of them. I think that really separates me from other catchers. I take a lot of pride in my relationship with the entire pitching staff.”
Davis moves well behind the plate. But, scouts hope to see improvement with his receiving skills this spring. Davis believes his offseason work will translate to better results in that area of the game.
“For me, I thought I was decent behind the plate and then last year I was trying some stuff out, specifically catching on one knee, and I struggled with it,” Davis said. “That was an adjustment I made this fall was being simple behind the plate. I also worked on holding guys on and blocking the ball and feel like I have made those strides. I think that will carry over to the spring.”
Louisville returns a plethora of talent this spring. Besides Davis, third baseman Alex Binelas, outfielder Levi Usher, left-handed pitcher Michael Kirian, and right-handed pitchers Jack Perkins, Jared Poland, and Glenn Albanese are all top draft prospects this year.
In recent years, the Cardinals have been one of the top programs in college baseball. They have qualified for the NCAA tournament eight straight years and reached the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, two of the last three years. Davis hopes this spring the Cardinals can capture their first-ever national title.
“Our only goal is to win the national title,” Davis said. “That is where we set it, and anything short of that would be a disappointment. I think we have the people to get it done. Our culture is what is going to separate us. We play with a lot of toughness. That is something that helps when you get to Omaha. We also have a very good combination of talent and experience.”
Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for six years. He’s interviewed 253 of the top draft prospects in that period, including three No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today, MLB.com and The Arizona Republic, have quoted his work, while he’s appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.” Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.