Tap-In Question: Is Chance Sisco a slam-dunk for your 2018 Opening Day roster? - BaltimoreBaseball.com
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Tap-In Question: Is Chance Sisco a slam-dunk for your 2018 Opening Day roster?

Photo credit: Joy R. Absalon

While we wade through the “Orioles have interest in fill-in-name starting pitcher” reports, all of which seem both obvious and premature to those who have spent a nanosecond paying attention to this team this past season and in recent history, I thought I’d bring another issue into the Tap Room today.

It’s one that seems obvious, too, but I’m not sure it should be. And so I wanted to get your thoughts. Pull up a barstool and hear me out.

Now, I admit this is not the most pressing issue facing the Orioles this offseason. It’s pretty far down on the list, but it also has some fairly far-reaching tentacles.

As I’ve written in the past – and likely will write plenty of times this winter – the Orioles need to acquire two to three established starting pitchers if they expect to compete in 2018. One likely will be through free agency, so any one out there that qualifies, well, qualifies as a person of interest for the Orioles. And we’ll be tracking those developments throughout the next few months.

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But my discussion today is who will catch those new pitchers, and the carryovers from the 2017 roster?

Welington Castillo is a free agent, and he’s going to be exploring a multi-year deal from another team. That, we all presume, leaves 31-year-ol Caleb Joseph as the starting catcher.

A clubhouse favorite, Joseph is a good game-caller, allowed only two passed balls in 2017 and hit .256 with eight homers in 89 games, a huge step above his homerless 2016 campaign. He also threw out only 18 percent of runners this past year, far below his career average (31 percent) and league average (27 percent).

The other assumption is that 22-year-old, backstop-in-waiting Chance Sisco will be Joseph’s backup in 2018 and may begin in a legitimate timeshare.

That’s what everyone wants anyway. Sisco has been the catcher-of-the-future since he was taken in the second round of the 2013 draft out of a California high school. He hasn’t disappointed, batting a combined .311 in five minor-league seasons while usually being among the youngest players in his respective leagues.

It was just a matter of time until he was in the big leagues. And that time came in September, when Sisco received a call-up and had six hits, including two homers, in 18 at-bats.

So, the call from the stands – and from some high in the organization – is let the kid play in 2018.

And I get that – to an extent.

There are some red flags here for me. I detail most of them in this piece I did this month for pressbox.com. I encourage you to read it before commenting in the Tap Room today.

But the gist is this: Sisco is still learning how to play catcher, something he didn’t do full-time until he was a senior in high school four-plus years ago. He didn’t throw out any of five basestealers in the majors this year; he threw out 23 percent in AAA last year and 21 percent in his career in the minors.

He also hit .267 in his first, full-time year at Triple-A Norfolk – which means he didn’t tear it up offensively — and is still learning the nuances of baseball behind the plate and calling a game.

I was told by several people that he is improving defensively, and that’s encouraging. But the question is what furthers his development: More seasoning as an everyday catcher in the minors or the tutelage of Joseph and catching instructor John Russell every day at the big league level?

I feel like most of you will go with the latter. We all love prospects and want to see the young, exciting guys succeed.

But catcher is a different position than any other. It takes most players years to truly develop, because defense is more important than offense at catcher. Look at Joseph: He’s heading into his first year as a true starting backstop at 31.

Here’s what I suggest: Pencil in Sisco as Joseph’s back-up this spring and then watch his performance closely before automatically giving him the trip up north. Meanwhile, bring in a legitimate, veteran defensive catcher this winter on a minor-league deal that could step into the role in April if another evaluation of Sisco shows he’d be better off with everyday time in the minors. And also keep an eye in the spring on Austin Wynns, who is considered a better defensive catcher than Joseph and turns 27 in December.

It may be unconventional, but maybe you leapfrog Wynns from Double-A Bowie to the majors, because a big-league backup playing twice a week needs defense more than offense. And you do that until Sisco is fully ready. Sounds silly until you consider Wynns is four years older than Sisco.

Anyway, I’m sure many of you just want to see Sisco play. I get that. And I’d advocate giving a young guy like outfielder Austin Hays a spot on the 25-man roster next year, wind him up and let him go.

But, to me, catching is different. And Sisco really can be the future behind the plate. So, I think the Orioles need to handle this one carefully.

What’s your call?

Tap-In Question: Is Chance Sisco a slam dunk for your Orioles’ Opening day roster?

 

24 Comments

24 Comments

  1. OsFanStuckInNY

    November 20, 2017 at 8:23 am

    I’m with you at this point. Sisco would benefit from a full year at Norfolk. Better yet, sign Castillo to a long term contract and trade Sisco as part of a package for starting pitching?
    Castillo proved a lot this past year. Sisco can only dream of matching his numbers someday — and even though he may well surpass him offensively, that’s by no means certain and a very long shot short term, not while still learning to catch in MLB, even if he were to be the starter.
    So to me, the questions are: can the O’s resign Castillo for 3-4 yrs. and who might be a trade partner with an adequate pitcher to trade for Sisco (etc.)?

    • Dan Connolly

      November 20, 2017 at 10:37 am

      They could sign Castillo to a 3-year deal in a blink. But I can’t imagine they’d do that. He filled a role solidly but I think there were some holes in his defensive game. I’d imagine he’ll sign a 2-yr deal somewhere.

  2. Marshall

    November 20, 2017 at 9:05 am

    While it’s a blink in time, there’s a ton that could happen between now and opening day. Offseason programs & activities, injuries, Duqette at the winter meetings card table. I would think Cisco’s fate wouldn’t be decided till most of spring training is over. I’m sure Buck will match him up with at least one of either Gausman or Bundy during training and make his evaluations.

    I’m less concerned with letting Cisco have a chance and more interested in what the plan is if he doesn’t work out or my favorite rain delay drummer gets injured. I just don’t see the O’s spending any money at all at catcher when the starting pitching needs are so stark. We can get by with a replacement level catcher. Clearly we don’t stand a chance if the pitching doesn’t get augmented.

    • Dan Connolly

      November 20, 2017 at 10:39 am

      Good points, Marshall. Drink chip. One thing though: a backup catcher is not a big-ticket item so cost shouldn’t be a factor there. Especially if you can get one on a minors deal.

  3. Orial

    November 20, 2017 at 9:07 am

    I do see them going with Joseph with Sisco eventually edging his way in. Joseph is adequate offensively and solid behind the plate. What worries me though is the overall offensive dropoff to the whole lineup by losing Castillo. When not injured he supplied some really big hits. The pitching,or lack there of gets all the attention but this lineup can go stagnant too. So yes I see Joseph out of the gate but don’t be complacent and think this offense is set.

    • Dan Connolly

      November 20, 2017 at 10:41 am

      The offense is flawed. No doubt. And I could see a one-year deal to a guy to make good at Camden Yards again. But I’d be surprised if they used major resources for a hitter.

  4. Osfan73

    November 20, 2017 at 9:25 am

    Sign the vet journey-man catcher as backup insurance in case Sisco has a bad spring or just shows he needs more work defensively at AAA. But with the goal to bring him up far sooner than September as it would be IMO just as beneficial to learn the position from watching, backing up and being mentored by Caleb Joseph.

  5. Bancells Moustache

    November 20, 2017 at 9:59 am

    If you are coming off a last place season where you blatantly threw in the towel for the last month of the year, noone should be a slam dunk for the 2018 roster.

    Joseph’s presence helps Cisco’s case. If the Orioles didn’t have a solid number one behind the dish, it would be a different story, but I’m of the mind that training wheels are useless. The best way to learn to be a Major League catcher is by being a Major League catcher. Playing the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs isn’t going to turn Cisco into Benito Santiago.

    • Dan Connolly

      November 20, 2017 at 10:42 am

      I agree with that philosophy at times. Not sure with catcher though. Especially someone with limited experience at it.

  6. boss61

    November 20, 2017 at 10:44 am

    Dan, i think that Pena may have been that exact insurance policy. Maybe he is angry, disappointed and gone but maybe not.

    To me, it’s Joseph’s job as the starter no matter what. Disco is the backup if deemed ready, but Pena or someone like him otherwise. I am reminded of how Geoff Zuan started when Wieters was a rookie.

    • Dan Connolly

      November 20, 2017 at 12:10 pm

      Yeah. Gregg Zaun was kept around for that purpose. And if not Pena, there are plenty of Penas. It’s why he was never claimed each time he was designated.

  7. Birdman

    November 20, 2017 at 11:05 am

    The idea of going with Joseph and Wynns sounds reasonable to me … but that will probably depend on Joseph putting up offensive numbers similar to 2017 – if we get the 2016 version of Joseph at the plate, then the pressure to get Sisco’s bat in the lineup will override concerns about his defense

    • Dan Connolly

      November 20, 2017 at 12:11 pm

      There is that possibility, for sure.

  8. Creatively_19

    November 20, 2017 at 11:08 am

    Nice of you to dust off the ole barstools, good sir!

    As Boss said, Pena might be the guy to back up Caleb until Winns or Cisco are ready. I don’t have any problem playing Caleb 5/7 days, because I think he’s much better when he gets regular playing time. If 2018 is our last shot at greatness with Manny Machado, we can’t afford to have a catcher learning on the job behind the plate. Let Winns and Cisco duke it out down in Norfolk and if one of them is beating down the door with the bat and playing solid defense, or alternatively if Joseph isn’t hitting at all with regular at bats, then bring one of them up.

    • Dan Connolly

      November 20, 2017 at 12:12 pm

      Again, reasonable thoughts. And I’d add in the veteran journeyman defensive backstop to the mix, too.

  9. cards97

    November 20, 2017 at 2:49 pm

    With Caleb as the starter and a veteran back-up, yes leave Sisco at AAA. The O’s are in a go for it mode in 2018 and best to have a developing catcher play everyday.

    • Dan Connolly

      November 20, 2017 at 11:37 pm

      In the minors, to complete your thought, right?

  10. phildell

    November 20, 2017 at 5:35 pm

    No way! Playing in September for a club going nowhere is a lot different than going through the grind of a full season. There are defense first catchers who will be available to backup CJ. Give Sisco another year in Triple A. Allow him to refine his craft behind the plate. Work with him on footwork and framing (or presenting) the pitch (don’t you just love the recently coined nuisances of catching?)
    Give Sisco the opportunity to work with pitchers in spring training and see what comes of that.
    I see no need to rush the kid. If he’s what they think he is, he’ll be here soon enough.

  11. Ben1

    November 20, 2017 at 7:06 pm

    You are spot-on today. I really liked Castillo but guess we cant afford him AND 2 expensive pitchers. I think Sisco could use another year, but what the hell hope he gets to pove us wrong.

    • Dan Connolly

      November 20, 2017 at 11:36 pm

      Certainly. And he could.

  12. ED-DIE

    November 21, 2017 at 9:53 am

    SisJo!

  13. Bkr555

    November 29, 2017 at 6:25 pm

    The team could sign Beef if they fixed most of their pitching problems internally. I will say it again…sign Cobb, sign Beef(keep Sicso at AAA for one year) make Britton and Givens starters and we are only a middle reliever away from being ready. Keep Hayes and Santander on the roster if its possible. You guys who say its a bad idea are the same guys that would have kept Babe Ruth pitching for the Red Sox!!!

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