We are now under a week to go until we get to this year’s MLB Draft, and the Red Sox are picking as high as they have in a half-century. With the fourth overall selection, the team has a chance to add real, premium talent to their farm system in a way that is just not common for them in their franchise’s history. With that in mind, in the six days leading up to the draft we are going to take a look at what seems to be a near-consensus on the top seven players for the Red Sox to consider with their first pick. We move back to the college ranks for this one with a look at Henry Davis.
MLB Pipeline: 5
When you look at the top of this draft class, there are a couple of clusters of similar players. In the top tier of seven players (it’s not a unanimous top seven, but close enough), there is a group of four high school shortstops, and then a pair of college pitchers. That’s only six, which leaves one lone wolf. The lone wolf is Henry Davis, who fits neither of these categories but is nonetheless exciting, with most believing he is the best pure bat in the entire class.
That distinction would have come as a surprise just a few years ago when Davis was just coming out of high school. Hailing from Westchester County just upstate from New York City, he was a decent draft prospect — BA notes they had him ranked just outside the top 300 overall — but did not end up getting selected in that 2018 draft. But it’s not just that he wasn’t an elite prospect coming out of high school, but rather that he was seen as a defense-first backstop. Now, after a strong career and great junior year playing behind the plate at Louisville, the script has flipped in a sense for Davis.
This wasn’t exactly an out-of-nowhere kind of season for the polished hitter, but it wasn’t totally expected either. As a freshman, there wasn’t too much to write home about, finishing the season with just a .738 OPS. That was followed up with a lackluster showing on the Cape, but then 2020 happened. The season was, of course, cut short due to COVID, but in his short time playing Davis did get to show off new skills at the plate with a 1.178 OPS. There’s always a fair bit of skepticism after such a small sample — he got only 52 plate appearances in the season — but he followed it up with a huge season this spring, finishing with a 1.145 OPS with 15 homers, a pace that’d give him 36 over 550 plate appearances.
But it’s not just the numbers Davis put up last season. Scouts agree with what the numbers say, which is that this is a truly special bat with a chance to make an impact at the highest level sooner than later. The 21-year-old (he’ll turn 22 in September) is the total package at the plate, showing a good understanding of the strike zone and an ability to put the bat on the ball. FanGraphs’ scouting report linked above notes that he swung and missed just eight percent of the time this past season. But it’s the power that really carries the day. Listed at 6’2, 210, he’s a big kid and he hits the ball how you’d expect. The raw power is plus, and given his other abilities at the plate he should be able to tap into it consistently.
If there is an issue for Davis, it’s his defensive future. This is something I’d plan on discussing in much more detail if/when the Red Sox do select Davis, but there’s a real debate over whether or not he’ll stick at catcher. On the one hand, he has a huge arm that will be a big asset behind the plate. On the other, his framing skills are well below-average — though robo umps could make that meaningless — and his ability to move and keep the ball in front of him needs improvement as well. The good news is his bat will play even if he has to be moved off the position, but obviously he’s a much more intriguing prospect if he can combine that bat with an ability to stick behind the plate.
My sense over the last week or so is that it is more and more likely (though by no means a sure thing) that Leiter, Mayer, and Lawlar (all already covered here) will go with the top three, leaving the Red Sox their choice of who’s next. Davis has his flaws, but he has experience at Fenway and with Red Sox pitchers, and he’s as safe a bat as there is. They could do much worse than this selection.