Catching is another area the Orioles need to address - BaltimoreBaseball.com
Rich Dubroff

Catching is another area the Orioles need to address

Photo credit: Joy R. Absalon

It wasn’t long ago that catching was considered one of the Orioles’ strengths. It no longer is.

They have three home-grown catchers: Caleb Joseph, Chance Sisco and Austin Wynns. The trio combined for nearly all the work behind the plate this year.

Andrew Susac, who played nine games for the Orioles, wasn’t a product of their farm system. His season ended prematurely at Triple-A Norfolk because of a broken hand, and he isn’t expected to return to the organization in 2019.

Normally, having three catchers who came up through your farm system would be considered a good thing, but none stood out in 2018.

Oriole catchers combined to hit just .215 with nine home runs and 42 RBIs, by far the worst power numbers on the team.

Caleb Joseph, the nominal No. 1 catcher, hit .219 with three home runs and 17 RBIs in 82 games. This was the year when Joseph was supposed to cede the top job to Chance Sisco.

For a while it looked a though that would happen when Sisco threw out nine of his first 18 runners, but then something went haywire. He was hitting .255 through the end of April, perfectly acceptable for a rookie catcher, but suddenly hit a wall.

The Orioles sent him down to Triple-A Norfolk twice, once for 10 days in June, and when things didn’t improve for him, Sisco was returned to Norfolk in mid-July and stayed there until the rosters expanded in September.

Sisco went 1-for-4 on June 28, his first game with the Orioles since being recalled, and then finished the season just 2-for-39. He had just one RBI after May 27.

The Orioles hoped Sisco would play some in September, but with two weeks to go in the season, he sustained a chin laceration and concussion and never returned. Sisco ended the year with a .181 average in 63 games.

Joseph was sent down to the Tides in mid-May and stayed more than a month, and while he hit somewhat better after his return, had just three RBIs after Aug. 2.

Wynns was something of a surprise, hitting .255 with four homers and 11 RBIs in 42 games.

Although Wynns has shown some inexperience behind the plate, he has shown signs he can be a big-league catcher.

Joseph, who managed to bat 132 times in 2016 without an RBI, is a decent defensive catcher. He threw out 33 percent of runners trying to steal on him.

The Orioles thought that Sisco, who was ranked No. 68 in Baseball America’s top prospect list before the season, was going to be a star. In the minors, Sisco had a .402 on-base percentage entering this year. A left-handed hitting catcher with a high OBP? The Orioles couldn’t wait to see him, and he hit brilliantly in spring training.

Sisco’s throwing needs work. After his 9-for-18 start, the next 15 runners trying to steal were successful, and when he played for the Tides, he threw out just 14 percent of base-stealers (5-for-37).

It’s too early for the Orioles to give up on Sisco, or try to change positions, and he’ll be back next spring with a lot to prove.

It will be interesting to see if Joseph returns in 2019. His offensive numbers are weak, and his salary keeps creeping up. He annoyed Orioles management by taking them to arbitration the year after he didn’t have an RBI, and though he lost his case, got a small raise.

In 2018, Joseph made $1.25 million, and there’s the chance that the Orioles will not offer him a contract for next year, though with catching being in demand, he won’t have a hard time getting a job.

Martin Cervenka, who caught at Double-A Bowie and will play for the Glendale Desert Dogs in the Arizona Fall League, might force his way on to the 40-man roster. But it’s hard seeing Cervenka, who hit .258 at Bowie with 15 home runs and 60 RBIs, making the jump to the big leagues without a taste of Triple-A.

During spring training, there seemed to be a possibility that Wynns, who had no real Triple-A experience, could make the Orioles. But Sisco hit well and the Orioles wanted to give Wynns some more time in the minors.

The Orioles have so many problems to attack in the offseason, and with few quality catchers available on the free agent market, they just might have to hope for a huge improvement from Sisco while keeping Joseph and Wynns around as backups.

24 Comments

24 Comments

  1. bigdaddydk

    October 2, 2018 at 9:10 am

    At the moment, it’s kind of hard to identify areas of strength for this team. CF may be in good hands with Mullins. He’s got room to grow, but he was respectable overall. And Villar in the middle infield can be solid. I like that both have speed, and good defense up the middle is a great place to start. But we only really have one middle infielder who can hit reliably and the corner infield spots are both incredibly weak. Nuñez was a pleasant surprise at 3B compared to what he was supposed to be. I like his bat for the most part, but I’m not sold on his defense at a position where we need strong defense.

    Mancini has been stuck out of position, at least in theory because he’s blocked by Davis at 1B (which is a conversation unto itself,) and while he’s done as well as one can expect from a slow-footed 1B/DH type, he helps make the OF way too porous. Jones won’t be back. Of that I’m nearly certain. I suspect he front office is feeling a little chapped in the nether regions since he exercised his 10-5 rights, and he’s probably going to make too much money to justify keeping him around as he’s slowing down a bit. His bat still plays, but he’s not going to be the future in RF. If Stewart pans out, we could see 2/3 of a decent defensive outfield between he and Mullins. I still like Hays, but I’d like to be pretty sure about him before bringing him up for good.

    Pitching. Oh. My. Goodness. Aside from Cobb, who was as solid as one could have hoped after the All-Star break, pitching was horrendous. Yes, we had a few good showings here and there. I do like Cashner because he’s a competitor and he works his butt off. Maybe he returns to form with a good spring training. If so, there’s 2/5 of a rotation. But we’re back to where we were last off-season with two guys we have some degree of confidence in and a bunch of I don’t knows in the 3-5 slots. What is happening with Bundy? I’ve read that he was overused at nearly a criminal level as an amateur, which contributed to his TJ surgery. Are we getting the ragged ends of his career this early? Gausman seemed to be coming into his own, and I hope that we can parlay the return from Atlanta into something reasonable to justify letting him go, especially with years of control remaining.

    I agree with the premise of the article about catching having been a strength but now appearing to be a big weakness. I remember being very enthusiastic about Sisco coming up based on his MiLB numbers, but it’s pretty frustrating seeing how he’s struggled at a level where we thought we’d be adding a solid bat that would grow into a decent defensive catcher. Makes letting Wieters and (without prior knowledge of PEDs) Castillo go seem questionable at best. Although Wieters never became the player he was, probably unfairly, expected to be, he handled a pitching staff well. I favored letting him walk for what he would cost, and I thought Castillo was a pretty fair acquisition to replace him at the same productivity for half the price.

    So, here we sit, looking back at years of some players exceeding expectations, some stars that were not locked down and/or were allowed to walk, questionable trades and FA signings, raiding other teams for minor leaguers they didn’t feel inclined to protect, and the worst season in franchise history where there was hope of contention. Yes, finding an area of strength is a tall task at the moment.

    • mlbbirdfan

      October 2, 2018 at 5:07 pm

      Wieters was a dud in Washington, right? (They under performed more than the Orioles.)

      • bigdaddydk

        October 3, 2018 at 8:23 am

        He was not what they had hoped. They thought he’d replace Wilson Ramos more effectively than he did. He certainly wasn’t worth the money he got in his contract based on his production. He was injured some this year, which limited him to 76 games, but last year he wasn’t much either.

    • Rich Dubroff

      October 2, 2018 at 9:24 pm

      A very interesting summary here, Big Daddy.

      • bigdaddydk

        October 3, 2018 at 8:23 am

        I just call ’em like I see ’em.

  2. willmiranda

    October 2, 2018 at 11:03 am

    I’m still trying to wrap my brain around the fact that the team we fielded for the last half of the season was as successful W-L wise as the team in the first half. If you look at the roster now and added all the “stars” we traded away, you would think we would have a better team for next year. Yet the record says no. OK, throw in Wieters. Would that make a difference? There’s something eerie about the team’s collapse that makes it hard to identify concrete changes to make.

    • Rich Dubroff

      October 2, 2018 at 9:25 pm

      I was a huge supporter of Matt Wieters, but the Orioles clearly got his prime, Will.

  3. Ekim

    October 2, 2018 at 12:01 pm

    What area doesn’t need attention? Just saying….

  4. boss61

    October 2, 2018 at 12:26 pm

    To me, Wynns has the most promise. Dempsey consistently praises his instincts and mechanics. He looks like he belongs. I do wonder how the three differed in terms of pitcher ERA when they caught. Does anyone know?

    • boss61

      October 2, 2018 at 12:55 pm

      I found my own answer. Wynns was better than the other two, by half a run per game.

      • Rich Dubroff

        October 3, 2018 at 9:16 am

        Boss, I’m afraid that is incorrect. Caleb Joseph’s ERA was 5.00. Chance Sisco’s was 5.02 and Austin Wynns’ was 6.02. in seven games, Andrew Susac’s was 4.05.

        • boss61

          October 3, 2018 at 9:31 am

          Hmm. Foxsports published a sortable database that had Wynns at 4.61. I guess it was in error.

  5. OsFan007

    October 2, 2018 at 2:08 pm

    Need to start with who is the GM (aka vice-president of baseball operations) and manager. If you are gonna cut both Duquette & Buck loose….do asap! I know this can happen during the playoffs. MLB prefers teams wait until after the World Series. The O’s don’t have any time to waste.

    If Brady and the Angelos Boys are the GM so be it. Nothing we as fans can do about it. Get Joe Girardi in here or some younger recently retired ballplayer manager. See Boston, NY Yanks, Milwaukee Brewers! Minor leagues coaching and management staff need to be enhanced and overhauled too. I’d even give Rick Dempsey a shot at managing if he was interested.

    Wynns is the only catcher with potential in my opinion. I’d sign the best FA catcher available and I know the field of FA catchers is thin. Maybe Martin Maldonaldo with Houston or someone else. These other Catchers got to go as do most of the players on this AA roster! Mullins, Mancini, Villar are definites but just about every position including SP and RP need attention and depth.

    • Rich Dubroff

      October 2, 2018 at 9:26 pm

      Os Fan, I’ll address Duquette and Showalter tomorrow morning.

  6. Disco Stupid

    October 2, 2018 at 4:58 pm

    Rich, the Orioles recently signed Bobby Witt’s uncle to join their scouting staff. Do you think this means that the Orioles will pick Witt with the first pick? I ask because Adley Rutschman is a switch hitting catcher who might be a long term answer to our catching problems, should he be selected by the birds.
    I also echo the disappointment in Sisco’s performance with the stick. If his defense doesn’t improve his bat is not speaking loud enough to warrant another position. Between him, Wynns, Cervenka and Cumberland it seems like we have a lot of depth that isn’t quite up to major league caliber.

    • Rich Dubroff

      October 2, 2018 at 9:29 pm

      Disco, it’s way too early to think about the June draft. Obviously, the armchair scouting directors have Witt and Rutschman as the top two picks, but when you’re talking about 17-21 year-olds, there are others who may emerge next spring.

  7. Pip

    October 2, 2018 at 5:01 pm

    You are entirely 100% mistaken. Catcher is the one and only position on the team that does not need to urgently be addressed. And why focus on offense so much? Catcher is a defense-first position. Sisco is bad on defense. His caught stealing rate was shown to be a mirage because the pitchers were helping him, which was confirmed by an article over at Camden Depot. And with a 40% strike out rate, Sisco’s offense is bad as well. He has no future unless he drastically improves on both sides of the ball.
    Joseph and Wynns provide excellent defense, and adequate offense, and remember, please, even while the fools in the front office forget, defense is more important from catcher then offense. Wynns and Joseph offer quite good Defense and Joseph is also an excellent framer.
    No, Catcher is not an area of immediate need, although every other position is.

    • Disco Stupid

      October 2, 2018 at 5:58 pm

      Joseph and Wynns provide “adequate offense”. Lol. I like Wynns as a backup catcher potentially but as a nearly 28 year old who had an OPS+ of 85 I don’t think it gets much better for him than this. Joseph is 32 and had 60 OPS+ last year. He has peaked.

      • Pip

        October 2, 2018 at 9:14 pm

        I think Wynns can do well and Joseph is a good defender.
        But remember, his is a 50-win team.
        Catcher is, at the moment, the LEAST of our troubles, and the last thing that needs to be addressed. If GM-to-be brings in a pricey free agent catcher, he’s a fool, and if he brings in a cheap minor league catcher( the 2019 version of Susac) he’s also a fool.
        Joseph and Wynns are adequate for now, and Joseph remains a fine framer and game caller. Who cares how he hits?

    • Rich Dubroff

      October 2, 2018 at 9:32 pm

      Pip, if other offensive positions on a ballclub are strong, you can get by with relatively weak offensive catchers. The Orioles don’t have that luxury.

      A point I was trying to make was that there isn’t much immediate help with the free agent market for catchers weak unless the Orioles promote Cervenka.

      • Pip

        October 3, 2018 at 12:28 am

        You almost completely ignored defense in favor of taking about offense. Drives me nuts when guys focus on offense, especially at catcher.
        The front office focused only on offense( that’s why we had multiple DHs and no utility infielder to start the season) and we won 45 games.
        Catching is about defense, handling the pitchers, and framing.
        Wynns and Joseph do that well enough.
        Hitting is a bonus.
        Catching is the least of our problems. We can find our offense elsewhere.
        Thank you for your reply I appreciate it.

  8. Justin Lego

    October 3, 2018 at 12:04 pm

    I agree with other posters that defense needs to be the #1 priority in a catcher. Hopefully the O’s get with the times and start considering more advanced metrics when they’re drafting and developing catchers. Gone are the days where all that mattered was number of passed balls and what percentage of runners you threw out. We can now track who frames pitches well and who doesn’t. Oriole catchers are HORRIBLE at framing, as every Oriole catcher posted a negative in framing runs saved in 2018. Do the pitching staff a favor and get a catcher who can get you that called 3rd strike every once in a while!!! FRAA (Fielding Runs Above Average) is just as bad. Sisco, Wynns, and Joseph all graded as below average defensive catchers last year.

    How many runs could a good defensive catcher shave off of this team’s ERA? I’d argue that’s way more valuable than any contribution they might make with the bat.

    • Rich Dubroff

      October 3, 2018 at 11:11 pm

      Interesting thoughts, Justin.

  9. OsfansinWV

    October 3, 2018 at 8:16 pm

    “Catching is another area the Orioles need to address”! Along with hitting, pitching, base running, scouting, coaching, etc. etc. etc.

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