Adley Rutschman won’t be the Orioles’ starting catcher in 2020. After making him the first overall pick in last June’s draft and signing him to a record $8.1 million signing bonus, the Orioles are grooming him to be their catcher for many years to come.
Rutschman briefly played at Rookie Level Gulf Coast, moved up to Short Season Aberdeen and finished his initial pro season at Low-A Delmarva.
At the major league level, the Orioles used four catchers — Pedro Severino, Chance Sisco, Jesus Sucre and Austin Wynns.
Sucre is gone from the organization. He began the season with the Orioles, but was in Norfolk after 20 games and didn’t play for the Tides after the end of July. He’s elected free agency.
Severino, claimed on waivers from the Washington Nationals just before spring training ended, started the most games, 80. He had a fine first half of the season, hitting .272 with an .818 OPS. In the second half, he slumped to .221 with a .644 OPS.
Sisco, who floundered badly in 2018, got another chance in 2019, hitting .210, but he had a .333 on-base percentage and a .729 OPS.
After he was called up in early June, Sisco got off to a nice start offensively, hitting .267 in 14 June games with 15 RBIs, but he again sputtered in the second half of the season. In September, Sisco hit just .143.
Sisco was the Orioles’ second-round pick in 2013, a draft in which the Orioles choose four catchers in their first 11 picks. Wynns was chosen in the 10th round. The other two catchers, Jonah Heim (fourth round) and Alex Murphy (sixth round), never played for the Orioles.
The Orioles hoped was that Sisco would succeed Matt Wieters as the franchise catcher, but that hasn’t happened.
Sisco hit well in the minor leagues but struggled defensively. In 2019, Sisco threw out just five of 30 (17 percent) of runners attempting to steal.
Severino’s defense sufered along with his offense in the season’s second half. He began the season by throwing out nine of the first 12 runners who tried to steal on him but ended the year by throwing out just 24 percent (42-for-55) of basestealers.
The Orioles’ top two starters, John Means and Dylan Bundy, had similar ERAs when working with Severino and Sisco. Mychal Givens, who struggled through a difficult season, had a 5.80 ERA when throwing to Severino but allowed just one earned run in 12 1/3 innings (0.73) with Sisco catching him.
Wynns hit .214 in 28 games and threw out 3 of 14 runners (21 percent) attempting to steal.
With Rutschman clearly the future, and the team in desperate need of pitching, should the Orioles punt on improving the catching in 2020?
Other than Martin Cervenka, who finished the season at Triple-A Norfolk along with Wynns, and Carlos Perez, who has four seasons of major league experience, there aren’t any other major league catching candidates in the system.
Cervenka remains in the organization but had a disappointing year. Perez played most of the season at Double-A Bowie and received praise for his work with the Baysox’s young pitchers.
If Perez doesn’t stay in the organization, the Orioles will attempt to sign other minor league free agents to help with the spring training workload.
Brett Cumberland, whom the Orioles received from Atlanta in the Kevin Gausman trade, also caught for Bowie but isn’t considered a major league prospect.
Rutschman could return to Delmarva to begin the season or could jump to High-A Frederick, but he won’t be catching for the Orioles next season.
While the temptation to stick with Severino, Sisco and Wynns might be there, the Orioles need better catching to work with the pitching prospects who are likely to join the team later in 2020.
It remains an opportunity for the three incumbents to prove they belong in the major leagues until Rutschman arrives. Catching once or twice a week might not seem appealing but caddying for a top-shelf catcher is a major league job.
In general manager Mike Elias’ first draft, he did what his predecessor, Dan Duquette, did in 2013. Elias loaded up on catchers. He picked Stanford’s Maverick Handley in the sixth round and Jordan Cannon, from Sam Houston State, in the 10th round.
Handley, who wasn’t an offensive force in college, had trouble at the plate for Aberdeen, hitting just .202 but threw out 63 percent of basestealers (19-for-30).
Besides Cannon, who didn’t have great stats in his first taste of pro ball, the Orioles also picked Harris Yett, another college catcher in the 32nd round. Yett hit .340 for Gulf Coast.
Perhaps Cannon, Handley or Yett can someday back up Rutschman.
While we wait, we’ll see if Severino, Sisco and Wynns get additional chances to prove they’re worthy of staying around.