Mountcastle, Sisco, Stewart must be ready for spring training exam - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Rich Dubroff

Mountcastle, Sisco, Stewart must be ready for spring training exam

Photo Credit: Joy R. Absalon

At the end of a Buck Showalter-managed season, he’d often remark that it was time for the Orioles’ players to pick their own friends because for eight months their friends were effectively picked for them.

As spring training nears, we’ll find out what general manger Mike Elias and manager Brandon Hyde think of some of the players that were picked for them by Showalter, and to a greater extent, former general manager Dan Duquette.

Elias has already eliminated some of Duquette’s players and more will be discarded in the coming weeks. Hyde has yet to offer opinions on the players he’ll be inheriting when spring training begins on Feb. 12.

Elias, in an email to season-ticket holders shortly after he was hired, lauded Dylan Bundy, Mychal Givens, Trey Mancini and Cedric Mullins, indicating that the team could build around them.

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All four have shown promise, but what about those Elias didn’t name?

Ryan Mountcastle, Chance Sisco and DJ Stewart were all high draft picks by Duquette, and he tirelessly advocated for them.

Elias and Hyde have no ties to any of them, but because the team has so much invested in them, they’ll be looking closely this spring.

Mountcastle, who was the 36th overall pick in the 2015 draft, has yet to play in the majors. In fact, Mountcastle has yet to even play Triple-A, which he’s likely to do this season.

Drafted as a shortstop, moved to third base in 2017, Mountcastle remains an unknown defensively. Despite pleas from the Orioles’ minor league staff, Duquette refused to move Mountcastle from the left side of the infield.

His bat is less of a concern, though Showalter made it a point to remind Mountcastle, and to repeat to reporters that he’d walked just 17 times in 127 games for High-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie in 2017. That wasn’t going to cut it, Showalter said.

Last year, Mountcastle, who missed the start of the season because of a broken right hand, improved somewhat. In 102 games for the Baysox, Mountcastle walked 26 times and had a .341 on-base percentage to go with a .297 batting average.

The Orioles need to decide on a position for Mountcastle, whether it’s first, the outfield or designated hitter.

Stewart was taken 11 spots ahead of Mountcastle, as the 25th overall pick in 2015, and had an erratic minor league career. He hit just .250 but had a .351 OBP.

He was elevated to the majors last September and despite a rough start (0-for-13), ended up with a .250 average, .340 OBP and three homers with 10 RBIs in 17 games.

It would be a plus for the Orioles if Stewart could capture an everyday outfield job in spring training, but it wouldn’t be a surprise for Elias to acquire a veteran and send Stewart back to Triple-A Norfolk for more work.

The decision for Elias and Hyde on Sisco is trickier.

Sisco, the second-round pick in 2013, had a strong minor league career with a .386 OBP. That excited Duquette, who insisted that Sisco was ready to catch in the big leagues. A strong offensive spring training a year ago seemed to support that.

But Sisco’s 2018 was a disaster.

He hit just .181 and was twice sent back to Norfolk. From July 1 to the end of the season, Sisco was just 2-for-33, and his defense went south, too.

After throwing out nine of his first 18 basestealers, Sisco allowed 20 of his final 24 runners to steal successfully.

At the beginning of last season, the Orioles felt confident about their catching with Sisco, Caleb Joseph and Austin Wynns.

Joseph was non-tendered and is still looking for a spot, Wynns performed creditably, throwing out 32 percent of runners trying to steal, and Sisco reverted.

However, not all was lost. Two of the pitchers who are expected to be among the Orioles’ top starters performed well when Sisco was catching.

Bundy, who had a 5.45 ERA in 2018, had an ERA more than three runs better (2.36) in the six games Sisco caught for him, and Andrew Cashner, whose ERA was 5.29, had an ERA less than half that (2.55) in the four games he threw to Sisco.

On the other hand, Alex Cobb had a frightful 10.52 ERA in the seven games he pitched when Sisco was behind the plate, more than double his 4.90 ERA.

The Orioles are trying to accumulate catchers. While Sisco and Wynns are back, and it’s still possible Joseph could be, they have at least three others likely coming to spring training.

Carlos Perez, a strong defensive catcher recently signed to a minor league contract, and Martin Cervenka, who improved dramatically at Bowie, are coming to major league camp. Andrew Susac, who was recently outrighted to Norfolk, could be around, too.

But it’s Sisco who will draw the most attention.

Elias and Hyde would love it if Sisco could prove he’s a major league catcher, but even the regular tutelage of former bench John Russell, who worked with him in 2017 and 2018, couldn’t elevate him.

Russell is gone now, and Tim Cossins, who Hyde will bring from the Chicago Cubs, will try to work with Sisco.

Mountcastle, Sisco and Stewart might find it easier to perform now that the pressure of being one of the previous regime’s favorites is gone. Or the new regime could decide that they never deserved that attention.

Because Elias didn’t bring them into the organization, they won’t be given a pass, though they’re likely to get extended looks.

Watching what happens with those three is going to be an intriguing storyline in the first spring training with the Orioles for Elias and Hyde.

22 Comments

22 Comments

  1. Fareastern89

    January 21, 2019 at 10:24 am

    Excellent article, Rich. It’s interesting to see the effects of Duquette’s support (even in the face of evidence to the contrary) for the players he drafted in the early rounds. (Was Sisco’s status one of the bones of contention between Duquette and Showalter?). Also, Duquette seems to have had a predilection for drafting bats who might struggle to perform at an adequate level defensively. Let’s see how the new regime’s focus on defense will play out with Mountcastle and Sisco, especially.

    • Rich Dubroff

      January 21, 2019 at 12:16 pm

      Fareastern, not sure about Sisco, but will be fascinating to see how Elias and Hyde see these guys. Thank you for the kind words,

  2. OriolesNumber1Fan

    January 21, 2019 at 10:47 am

    With Diaz and McKenna coming and Mullins already there, Stewart better step up and show what he can do.

    Mountcastle can hit but his position is in question. Can’t see them move him to outfield because of the limited playing time from what I already stated. 1b is already waiting for Mancini so DH would get his bat regular playing time.

    Sisco also needs to move out of the catching position with the possible drafting of Rutschman. He played shortstop in high school. so maybe can handle third or second base. Just maybe the catching position is too much to learn and is also affecting his hitting now.

    • Rich Dubroff

      January 21, 2019 at 12:18 pm

      No 1 Fan, not sure who Orioles will draft. You don’t move someone until you absolutely must. This year will tell us if they must move some of them.

  3. Orial

    January 21, 2019 at 11:30 am

    It seems a lot of the O’s prospects either sustain injuries or hit a wall between the AA and AAA. Let’s hope the Diaz,McKenna,DL Hall group is able to make the next step. Something seems to go haywire between Norfolk,Bowie. Hopefully this regime pushes things along.

    • cedar

      January 21, 2019 at 11:44 am

      Orial – You wrote what I have often wondered, what happens to the players between AA and AAA that causes them to be less effective? I hope too that Elias and company have the answer.

    • Rich Dubroff

      January 21, 2019 at 12:19 pm

      Orial, it’s a huge jump on any organization from Double-A to Triple-A.

    • Rich Dubroff

      January 21, 2019 at 12:33 pm

      Cedar and Orial, the best prospects in baseball are now sent to Double-A. Triple-A is more of a holding station for players who’ve already been in the majors.

  4. cedar

    January 21, 2019 at 11:48 am

    Great insight into these guys and especially the catching situation. I am surprised to read the marked improvement of Bundy and Cashner with Sisco behind the plate. I know some pitchers perform better with certain catchers. However, given Sisco’s troubles I would never have thought he would have such a positive impact on one of the staters much less two.

    • Rich Dubroff

      January 21, 2019 at 12:34 pm

      Catcher and pitcher chemistry is tricky, Cedar.

  5. jtab

    January 21, 2019 at 12:51 pm

    Rich, what’s the knock on Mountcastle and third? Footwork, his arm, etc? Curious why I never see anyone mention 2B as an option for him. Would seem to be less of a logjam on the organizational depth chart there.

    • Rich Dubroff

      January 21, 2019 at 1:34 pm

      He doesn’t react quickly enough, jtab. It will be interesting to see where he ends up.

  6. Frankly Robinson

    January 21, 2019 at 1:06 pm

    Great coverage and thoughts Rich.

    I agree it will be intriguing. The tools are there for sure. Good direction will help. The minor league staff will be key as well.

    Will be fun to watch from a box seat. ⚾️

    • Rich Dubroff

      January 21, 2019 at 1:34 pm

      Thank you, frankly.

  7. Ekim

    January 21, 2019 at 1:49 pm

    You’re certainly going to need a program at Spring training to know who the players on the field are. Rich, your point about Duquette’s (see, I CAN spell it right!) influence on where certain players actually played while in the minors explains why I’ve had a bit of a disconnect with why some ended up playing where they did. You already know my feelings about Stewart… in over his head but with Sisco, I’m not sure. There has to be a reason why he tailed off so badly last year. Watching Mountcastle play last year, I didn’t see him as a big liability in the field but then I’m only a fan.

    Moving on to Mullins… my jaded opinion notwithstanding, he’s got a LOT to prove he’s a bona fide major leaguer. Started with a bang and then, poof, it was gone. I felt the hype for him when he arrived was manufactured. I feel the same with some of the “gems” that got foisted off on us with the fire sale of last Summer. I surely hope I’m wrong.

    • Rich Dubroff

      January 21, 2019 at 3:59 pm

      Ekim, this entire season will be something of a laboratory.

  8. ClyOs

    January 21, 2019 at 3:34 pm

    Rich good article. I agree the Orioles acquire a veteran outfielder and send D J Stewart back to Norfolk for more work. He’s just not ready for the big leagues at this point. I do think however Mike Elias and Brandon Hyde will give him more than a second look, before giving up on Steward. Ryan Mountcastle can hit so I feel he’s going to be around awhile. He might start the season in Norfolk, but at some point in 2019 he will be in the majors. He’s just too good a natural hitter, from what I’ve seen. Defensively he needs work, but then so does Mancini. The guy I’m most worried about is Chance Sisco. He really did have a bad 2018, and needs to have a good spring. I don’t think he gets as much leeway from Elias and Hyde as the other two young men. Sisco needs to show he is the catcher that Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter felt could replace Matt Weiters or he will be traded or optioned. Also, I’m a little curious why you didn’t include Austin Hays in the discussion as well. Doesn’t he fall in the same categories as a young player that Elias and Hyde inherited from Duquette and Showalter.

    • Rich Dubroff

      January 21, 2019 at 4:04 pm

      ClyOs, thanks for your kind words.

      Hays fits into a different category because injuries took away most of his 2018 season.

      There are others who fit in that category, too. You’ll be reading about all of them this spring.

  9. BirdsCaps

    January 21, 2019 at 4:27 pm

    Goodness, What a mess the minor league system is in. These players (along with Sedlock) are the players the orioles are going to be relying on in the coming years. As mentioned, Mountcastle’s bat looks good. However, the rest of the group looks shaky. I watched all of them (at least for a few games) in Aberdeen. I didn’t have enough games to make a good observation on Sisco. Mountcastle looked good, but Stewart’s defense is shaky at best. This makes him another Davis/Trumbo type. Thank God we have a GM that focuses on growing talent, because this group of prospects likely will not turn out to be much. They wreak of mid 2000s prospect busts (E.G. Matt Riley Billy Rowell Brandon Snyder). Hopefully I’m wrong!

    • Rich Dubroff

      January 21, 2019 at 7:27 pm

      BirdsCaps, no Alex Ovechkins around but Stewart did show strong on-base capability in the minors.

      • BirdsCaps

        January 21, 2019 at 7:49 pm

        I didn’t know Ovi played baseball. You are correct, Stewart (and mountcastle) have offensive upside. Even with the offensive production of those two, this wave of prospects is severely lacking, especially with Stewart and Mountcastle’s questionable defense. Thanks to the neglect of the international market, loss of picks (due to Ubaldo, Gallardo, and Cruz) , and prospects not living up to potential (see Harvey and Sisco) the rebuild is going to be long and painful.

  10. Camden Brooks

    January 22, 2019 at 10:57 am

    Question…wasn’t there an O’s starting pitcher back in the 70’s or early 80’s that always pitched to our back-up catcher? Maybe to Dave Duncan? I can’t recall specifically, but it’s something that keeps popping up in my brain. Dennis Martinez maybe?

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