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.
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?