The 2020 season was an important one for catcher Chance Sisco and outfielder DJ Stewart. It didn’t turn out the way they had hoped.
Sisco and Stewart were highly touted draft choices from the Dan Duquette regime. Sisco was a second-round choice in the 2013 draft and hit well in the minors.
But when Sisco made it to the major leagues in September 2017, he struggled. Sisco did hit .333 (6-for-18) when he first came up. But in 2018, he hit .181 in 63 games, mostly in the first half of the season. He threw out 31 percent of runners who tried to steal against him (13 of 42), but spent much of the second half at Triple-A Norfolk.
Sisco had a strong spring training in 2019, but when Pedro Severino was claimed on waivers just before spring training ended, Sisco was sent back to Triple-A.
He returned in early June and hit well at first; in 19 games, he hit .283. But after the All-Star break, Sisco hit only .168 with three RBIs in 40 games. Sisco’s throwing also regressed in 2019; he threw out just five of 30 (17 percent) basestealers.
This season, Sisco began strongly. In his first 11 games through August 12th, Sisco had a .364 average and a 1.245 OPS.
By the end of last month, Sisco’s average had plunged from .364 to .241. In September, Sisco hit just .175 (7-for-40) with an RBI, and caught just 3 of 16 (19 percent) runners attempting to steal.
One thing that Sisco has always done well is draw walks. He ended with a .214 batting average and a .364 on-base average because of 17 walks and six hit by pitches. Sisco’s on-base average trailed only José Iglesias (.400) and Ryan Mountcastle (.386).
Stewart, who was the Orioles’ first-round draft choice in 2015, chosen 25th, 11 spots ahead of Mountcastle, made it to the majors in September 2018 and hit .250 in 17 games.
After a hot May for Norfolk, Stewart was set for an extended look last season but in his seventh game with the Orioles, he suffered a left ankle injury that initially cost him two months and later required offseason surgery.
In 2019, Stewart hit .238 in 44 games with four homers and 15 RBIs.
Had the season started on time, Stewart would have begun the year on the injured list because his ankle prevented him from playing by the time spring training ended on March 12 because of Covid-19.
Stewart began with 17 hitless at-bats, which included a trip back to the alternate site at Bowie. On September 5th, Stewart hit two home runs, and eventually hit six in six games, bringing his average up to .278.
But from September 12th through season’s end, Stewart hit only .135 (7-for-52), closing with a .193 average with seven homers and 15 RBIs. Stewart also has shown a discerning eye — his OBP was .355 — but he struggled on defense.
The Orioles have invested a lot in Sisco and Stewart and, as a former scout, executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias knows how important high draft picks are and wants to give them every chance to succeed.
In June 2020, the Orioles selected catcher Adley Rutschman with their first overall selection and whether his debut comes late in 2021 or in 2022, he’s going to need a backup, and a left-handed hitting catcher wouldn’t be the worst idea.
But Sisco is going to have to show more to stick around, as is Stewart. Next season, Mountcastle, Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins and Anthony Santander will need playing time, and Stewart might have to fend off rookie Yusniel Diaz, who isn’t likely to begin the year with the Orioles.
Stewart is also a left-handed hitter. Mullins and Santander are switch-hitters.
It will be interesting to see if Sisco and Stewart are back with the Orioles next spring—or if one is moved.
Rutschman won’t start the season with the Orioles, so it wouldn’t be surprising if Severino and Sisco return to begin the year, or if the Orioles let Severino go because he’s heading for arbitration.
As Elias said in his season-ending availability, the economics of the offseason are uncertain, and the Orioles might need to avoid going to arbitration with some of their eligible players.
Sisco’s ability to get on base continues to be a plus, but he’ll have to do much better to stay around once Rutschman comes to Baltimore.