This week, the Orioles added veteran Bryan Holaday to their catching mix. Of all the positions on the team, there’s less intrigue about catching than with any other.
That’s because their catcher of the future, Adley Rutschman, is looming in the not-too-distant future.
At last month’s Winter Meetings in San Diego, general manager Mike Elias said that Rutschman would be participating in major league spring training. Invitations to non-roster players have yet to be announced, but Rutschman will play some early Grapefruit League games.
It will be beneficial, Elias said, to expose Rutschman to the major league coaching staff.
At the same time, Elias said that Rutschman won’t be playing for the Orioles in 2020, saying that he couldn’t see last year’s overall No. 1 pick advancing four levels in a season.
While Rutschman learns, presumably at High-A Frederick to begin the season, four catchers battle for two spots on the Orioles, and one of those might be the phenom’s mentor when he comes to the big leagues. Perhaps it doesn’t seem to be a meaningful position, but being the understudy to a player who is supposed to be a star is still a job in the major leagues.
The 32-year-old Holaday has played in the major leagues in each of the last eight seasons with Detroit, Texas, Boston, and most recently, Miami.
He has never played more than 62 games in a season, but his most recent season with the Marlins was his best offensively. In 43 games, Holaday batted .278 and had a .779 OPS. He had only four home runs and 12 RBIs, but he’s never been known as a hitter.
His defense has stood out at times. In 2018, Holaday threw out a league-leading 45 percent of runners trying to steal against him. In 50 games with Miami, 17 of 38 runners were thrown out.
Last year, Holaday threw out just five of 25 runners, but his career caught-stealing percentage is 30 percent.
That’s the same percentage as incumbent starter, Pedro Severino, although last year it was just 24 percent.
Austin Wynns, who’s played 66 games over the last two seasons, has a 28 percent caught-stealing mark, and Chance Sisco has the weakest of the four, a 23 percent rate.
Severino and Sisco seem to be the leaders to break camp with the team, but Sisco needs to prove he can contribute offensively and defensively.
In 59 games last season, Sisco had a .210 batting average but thanks to a .333 on-base percentage, his OPS climbed to .729. Sisco threw out only five of 30 base-stealers (17 percent) in 2019.
The previous regime invested in Sisco; he was a second-round choice in 2013 and had healthy minor league offensive numbers. Elias and manager Brandon Hyde would like to see him improvement, but they’re not tied to the players they inherited.
Severino wasn’t an Oriole until a few days before spring training ended in 2019. He looked sharp defensively early in the season and finished with a .249 average and a .740 OPS.
In parts of four seasons with the Washington Nationals, Severino didn’t get to play much. Last season, Severino played in a career-high 96 games and had 13 homers and 44 RBIs.
Wynns didn’t play as much in 2019 as he did the year before, hitting .214 in 28 games.
It’s a big year for all four, especially Sisco. As the only left-handed hitter, perhaps he will stay when Rutschman arrives if he improves his all-around game.
Early in camp, the Orioles can always use extra catchers, and Martin Cervenka, who was re-signed to a minor league contract, should get a look. If Cervenka makes it to the big leagues, he’ll be the first player born in the Czech Republic to make the big time.
Valaika lost on waivers: Infielder Pat Valaika, who was designated for assignment when the Orioles claimed another infielder, Richard Urena, on waivers, was claimed by the Arizona Diamondbacks Thursday.
The Orioles had hoped Valaika would clear and compete for a utility infielder’s job.
Showalter interviews: Former Orioles manager Buck Showalter is a candidate for the suddenly vacant Houston Astros position. Showalter, who lives in Dallas, has been interviewed for the job, according to published reports.
There’s been no talk of Showalter being connected to the other two jobs that came open this week, the Boston Red Sox and the New York Mets, because of the sign-stealing scandal.
Showalter was not interviewed for the Mets position that went to Carlos Beltran last fall.