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.