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How Henry Davis' Growth Mindset Helped Him Become One Of 2021 MLB Draft's Top Prospects

Henry Davis has what he believes is a healthy obsession.

It’s a need to get better, it’s a focus on the process, and it’s a compulsion to continue doing that until he cannot possibly do it any longer.

Take his best tool as an example. Davis has an exceptional arm. Scouts have been stacking it up against big league arms since the Louisville catcher was in high school. Cardinals head coach Dan McDonnell acknowledges that Davis came to campus with it.

RELATED: See where Davis lands in our latest mock draft

“It’s hard to teach a kid to have a bazooka for an arm,” he said.

But Davis describes it as a weakness for a younger version of himself. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound backstop remembers watching countless games with Yadier Molina and Buster Posey behind the dish, making seemingly effortless, perfect throws. He wanted to be able to do that, too.

“As a kid, you don’t really know what the process is to get there,” he said. “But I remember when I was going into high school, reading or hearing that if you could throw 100 yards you could throw 90 miles an hour. And I thought, ‘Whoa, that would be amazing. I wonder how far I can throw?’

“I’m serious. I went to the local football field and I threw something like 70 yards. I was pretty frustrated and disappointed, so I came back the next day.

“And the next day and the next day, and I kept doing it constantly, and kind of got a little obsessed with it, to the point where I got to 100 yards. And then I got to the back of the end zone, and then throwing it through the field goal to the point where I could get both field goals. I literally just long-tossed my way into it because I didn’t have a great arm and I really wanted it, so I just chased after that.”

McDonnell has seen the obsession in action, though he didn’t entirely understand it until this year. On June 21, 2019, Louisville matched up against Vanderbilt in Omaha in the quest to head to the College World Series final. In the bottom of the ninth, down 3-2 with a runner on second and two outs, Davis, then a freshman, strode to the plate. He fell behind 0-2, then took a ball before popping up to end the game.

The Cardinals watched the Commodores celebrate and continue on to win the CWS. It was a game and an at-bat most might want to forget. But Davis absolutely didn’t. He couldn’t. And he still hasn’t.

His coach only realized that earlier this year. Before every weekend series, McDonnell asks an older player to speak to his team. On the Thursday that it was Davis’ turn, he brought the clip of that final out up on his phone—he still has it at the ready—to share with his entire team.

“He said that last at-bat of his freshman year was the defining moment of how good or great he wanted to be,” McDonnell said. “That summer, he couldn’t get that at-bat out of his head. He felt like he was good, and he was given a great opportunity, but he realized he could definitely do more. He wanted to do more. He never wanted to feel like he wasn’t prepared for a situation like that.

“From that moment on, he took it to another level. Everybody has their why, right? That’s his why. That was his moment. He didn’t want to be good. He wanted to be great.”

For Davis, that moment is one among many others like it. He returned to Louisville from Omaha and felt compelled to find a way to get that bad taste out of his mouth. But it’s what drives the 21-year-old, and that’s why he believes his obsession is a motivator,
not a liability.

“I remember after making the last out in Omaha, when I got back to school, at first it was like you can only do so much in a day,” Davis said. “You chase after it . . . but it really only becomes a detriment if you live your life based on the result. If you chase after the process of getting better and making those adjustments, whatever happens is irrelevant.

“I’m not trying to go 4-for-4 every game or hit a home run every game. I’m trying to make all the decisions I can off the field to help me get in a situation and be the most prepared
I can be.”

The process Davis is chasing has experienced an evolution in his time at Louisville. McDonnell often sees freshmen enter the program with a reluctance to change. Players who found success in high school doing things their own way are unwilling to make adjustments.

Until they struggle. Until they experience failure for the first time.

“You have to let them go through it,” McDonnell said. “You have to let them go through the tough times, watch them leaning over the railing when they’re not in the lineup. There are a lot of factors that come into play before the light comes on.”

Henry Davis Marydeciccogetty

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Davis’ most significant adjustments came by way of his swing. It had brought him a lot of success in high school, but it wasn’t mechanically refined.

It still is considered unorthodox, but Davis admits that in order to compete with it, he needed to adjust not only his swing, but he needed to learn how to become a good hitter, “because somebody who is a good hitter with a bad swing can really compete. Whereas if you’re a bad hitter with a good swing you don’t really have a chance.”

“As a young player, especially coming out of high school, you’re accustomed to success, you really want to win a spot when you’re coming into university, you want to get better, and you want to start,” Davis said. “You don’t want to change because you’re comfortable.

“But to be a great player, you have to let go of ego and be willing to make the adjustments and risk being uncomfortable along that process of finding out how good you can really be as a player—and specifically as a hitter for me. When I was a young player, I wanted to hold onto what I knew and what got me there, but if you want to get better, you’ve got to trust the people who are there for you.”

Davis’ game will see further adjustments defensively as his career continues. The room for improvement and the glimpses of what could await him behind the dish are what excite both him and his coach about the
journey ahead.

“He can get better receiving, he can get better blocking, and then you combine that with the plus arm that he has,” McDonnell said. “That’s what excites me about pro ball, because—I hate to say it—but that’s an easier skill to improve in. I can’t get you to hit the ball an extra 100 feet. That’s not as easy. I can’t get you to throw the ball that much harder. That’s not as easy.

“Receiving, and some of the finer points of catching, he’s going to take off. The most attractive thing about him is that he’s a guy who’s really locked in offensively. The numbers across the board are phenomenal, and that’s going to translate in pro ball. He’ll continue to mature and get stronger and get better and figure things out. But he’s not leaving here a finished product by any means.”

Added Davis: “I’m going to reach my potential defensively. I’m not close to it yet. I can be a very, very good defensive catcher, and I’m already there throwing-wise. I’m close blocking, and I’m only going to continue to make progress behind the plate.”

McDonnell often talks to his players about remaining in a growth mindset, continually working to improve by putting in the time, utilizing efficient strategies and taking feedback from others. Davis has been in that mindset since long before he knew how to describe it. It brought the Bedford, N.Y., native to Louisville, and it will accompany him on his next leg of the journey, placing no limit on how far it might take him.

“As a kid, growing up, I always wanted to be a major league player,” he said. “I’m sure that’s very common among young boys, but I always felt like every day when I’d look to the future or I’d look in the mirror at the player looking back at me, I was chasing somebody who was much better than me, which was my future self.

“I knew I had to get better, and from a young age I was focused on adjustments I could make, and trying to learn as much as possible to become the best player I could be to reach that goal.”

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