Entering the 2018 season, the Orioles trumpeted their catching as an area of strength. They had four catchers on the 40-man roster, and three were home-grown.
But this apparent strength has been a huge disappointment so far.
Oriole catchers are batting just .200 with four home runs and 24 RBIs.
The Orioles have used all four catchers on the roster: Caleb Joseph and Chance Sisco, who began the season with the team, Austin Wynns, who is in his second stint with the team, and Andrew Susac.
After Joseph struggled offensively, they replaced him with Susac in mid-May. When Susac was just 3-for-26 (.115) in nine games, they tried Wynns. For a spell, they had both Sisco and Wynns on the roster, but with Sisco floundering, they sent him to Triple-A Norfolk for 10 days last month, and he was returned there Saturday.
Currently, the catchers are Joseph, whose average has trended up from .182 when he returned from Norfolk June 18—to .209, and Wynns, who’s hitting .192.
After backing up Matt Wieters and Welington Castillo the last three seasons, Joseph was excited to be the Opening Day catcher, but at the end of April, he was hitting just .137 with two RBIs—both in the opener.
When he was sent down, Joseph was on a four-game hitting streak but still not playing the way the Orioles had hoped.
Because Joseph was struggling, Sisco got additional opportunities. The Orioles have been touting Sisco’s bat and improved defense, and a strong spring training when he hit .429 essentially forced them to bring him north. The Orioles wanted Sisco’s left-handed bat on the roster to start the season.
And, he was a prospect they’d been counting on for years.
Joseph’s inability to hit gave Sisco additional opportunities, but after he hit .255 in the season’s first month, it’s been downhill since. Sisco was just 3-for-30 in his most recent stint with the Orioles and is hitting just .195 with one RBI since May 27.
Sisco’s defense, which was supposedly improving, hit a wall, too. He threw out nine of his first 18 runners attempting to steal but, at one point, 17 straight were successful in stealing with him behind the plate.
The Orioles think he needs more work, both offensively and defensively, and expect that his time at Norfolk may be longer than the 10-day minimum.
“Just trying to get him going from a mental state of mind as much as anything,” manager Buck Showalter said. “We know he’s a much better hitter than he’s shown here. He’s caught and called the game. He’s grown. He’s covered himself throwing people out.
“We think a lot of him in the future. We’d like to see him have some extended success.”
Joseph, who threw out 40 percent of attempted baserunners as a rookie in 2014, has seen his throwing numbers fall since then. Last year, Joseph threw out just 18 percent of runners (10 of 55) and this year, it’s 29 percent (20 of 28).
The Orioles hoped Sisco would take over the top job, but he’s far away from that. Wynns is an organizational favorite because of his work ethic and willingness, but he hit just .230 in 41 games at Norfolk this season.
Sisco, Susac and the offensively challenged Armando Araiza, who was recently promoted from Double-A Bowie, are the catchers on Norfolk’s roster.
Susac has 113 games of major league experience with the Giants, Brewers and Orioles, but injuries have hampered him.
The Orioles have staked much on Sisco, who hit .312 in the minors with a .390 on-base percentage. They need him to succeed and will give him every chance.
“It’s been tough on him mentally and emotionally,” Showalter said. “It’s the first time a guy has really struggled offensively. It’s how they react to it.”