23 January 2017

A Decade of Orioles AAA Catchers

Joe Reisel's Archives

Audry Perez (on defense) is one of the more prominent Norfolk Tides catchers of the Orioles' Era.
Photo courtesy of Les Treagus / Norfolk Tides.

The Norfolk Tides moved into their current stadium, Harbor Park, in 1993, so 2017 is the 25th season in which they've played there. For their first fifteen Harbor Park years, the Tides were affiliated with the New York Mets; they became an Orioles affiliate after the 2006 season. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Harbor Park, and to remind Hampton Roads-area baseball fans that the 2017 season is approaching, the Tides' staff devised an "All-Time Harbor Park Team" promotion. As you might expect, the team selects finalists at each position from among Tides players; fans can vote on social media for their choice; the one with the most votes is named to the team. (See the Tides web site for more details.)

I will be starting my twelfth season as an milb.com datacaster for the Tides; I began during the last season of the Mets era and have continued through the entire Tides era. (I started my scoring for Baseball Info Solutions in my third season of datacasting.) In fact, I arrived in Hampton Roads in 1993, which coincidentally was the Tides' first season in Harbor Park. Before I became a datacaster, though, I only attended a few games a season; since then, and especially after I started scoring for BIS, I've attended around 45 games a season.

The first position voted upon was catcher, and the winner was, not really surprisingly, Matt Wieters. Although it wasn't surprising that Wieters would win a popular vote for All-Time Harbor Park catcher, it is noteworthy that Wieters has caught a total of 28 games as a Tide, presumably fewer than that actually at Harbor Park. When I started thinking about who would be more appropriate, I realized that although I remembered to a greater or lesser degree the Tides' catchers, especially of the Orioles' era, I didn't really know much about them. This article will look at the Tides' catchers during the Orioles' era.

Forty-two players have played catcher in at least one game for the Tides. Two of them are young players who caught a few games last season - Austin Wynns and Chance Sisco. Two others are not-so-young players who first caught Tides' games last season - Francisco Pena and Chris O'Brien. While I have a strong opinion about their probable future, my review showed me that I didn't know quire as much about players as I thought I did. So, I will not pigeonhole Pena or O'Brien.

Before I present my observations that may be more generally applicable to every team's AAA catchers, I'll share some Norfolk-Tides-in-the-Orioles-era catcher-specific trivia:
  • Audry Perez has caught the most total games, 153.
  • Omir Santos holds the single-season record for most games caught, 81 in 2008.
  • Besides Perez, only two other catchers have caught 100 or more games - Luis Exposito and Steve Clevenger.
  • Fifteen catchers have caught games in more than one season.
  • Only one game has been caught by a player on a rehabilitation assignment - Matt Wieters in 2015.
Now, for the more general observations. The catchers fall into five general categories. All of my player classifications are subjective and that I don't have any defined standards or cutoffs. So, while you might disagree about how a specific classification, I contend that there would be no dispute over 90% of the players.

The first category is players on their way up to somewhat substantial major-league careers. Surprisingly, only three players fall into that category, and two are borderline. The three are Matt Wieters, Eli Whiteside, and Caleb Joseph. As I mentioned above, Wieters also caught a game while on a rehabilitation assignment, and Joseph was sent down last season during his struggles.

The second category is players who had somewhat substantial major-league careers, but who bounced between AAA and the majors. Two players fall into that category, although Caleb Joseph might also eventually wind up here. The other two - both borderline - are Steve Clevenger and Taylor Teagarden.

The third category is players who had somewhat substantial major-league careers, but are playing AAA after their major-league careers are (mostly) finished and are hanging on. Seven players fall into that category; I won't list them all but they include Alberto Castillo, Ben Davis, Ronny Paulino, and Chris Snyder.

The fourth category is players who are fringe major-leaguers, who had insubstantial careers, or AAA players. Fourteen players fall into that category; typical examples include J.R. House, Craig Tatum, John Hester, and Brian Ward.

The fifth category might be called desperation catchers, players who either aren't really AAA players - such as Morgan Clendenin, Zach Booker, and Allen de San Miguel - or who aren't really catchers - Mike Costanzo and Brandon Snyder. These guys catch a few games - no more than ten in a single season - when injuries or callups require a promotion for the duration of the emergency or when an in-game crisis occurs. Ten catchers fall into that category.

It's obvious that very few catchers have passed through Norfolk on their way to long, successful big-league careers. I think we all sort of knew that. The Orioles aren't a player-development factory; and Matt Wieters has been entrenched in Baltimore since 2009. (Did you remember that Ramon Hernandez was the regular catcher before Wieters arrived in 2009? And that the Orioles traded Hernandez in December of 2008 for players, one of whom was current Dodger third baseman Justin Turner? I digress.)

Another noteworthy trend is that the Orioles have moved away from veteran catchers with substantial big-league experience. While they relied heavily on that type of player in 2007-2009, the last one they've had was Chris Snyder in 2013. They've relied more on the fringier types. Perhaps with Caleb Joseph on the big-league team, they've felt less of a need to have an experienced catcher stashed at AAA. Or, perhaps with Joseph around, veterans with big-league experience don't want to sign with the Orioles because they think they have a better shot at playing time elsewhere. Or perhaps there just aren't as many of those guys around.

I was surprised that only two of these catchers - J.R. House and Jake Fox - are what I call "bat-only" catchers. These are players who caught as amateurs but aren't good enough defensively to stay at the position. If their bats are good enough, they switch to another position and have a big-league career. If their bats aren't good enough - like House and Fox - they continue to catch, hoping that their combination of bat and ability to catch allows them to stay on a roster. I expected Norfolk to have had more of them.

Matt Wieters was certainly the best player to catch for the Norfolk Tides while they were an Orioles' affiliate. I still have a hard time swallowing the idea that someone who caught 28 games should be the catcher on an All-Time team. So perhaps Wieters really does deserve to be the catcher on the All-Time Orioles Era Norfolk Tides team..


Anonymous said...

Interesting post. Can you post the entire list? It's only 42 names. Thanks.

Unknown said...

OK, here goes:

Up-and-coming major leaguers: Eli Whiteside, Matt Wieters, Caleb Joseph

Post-major-leaguers: Alberto Castillo, Ben Davis, Robbie Hammock, Chad Moeller, Jake Fox, Ronny Paulino, Chris Snyder

Players dropping down in mid-career: Steve Clevenger, Taylor Teagarden

Fringe major-leaguers and AAA lifers: J.R. House, Omir Santos, Chris Heintz, Guillermo Rodriguez, Steve Torrealba, Adam Donachie, Michel Hernandez, Steve Lerud, Craig Tatum, John Hester, Luis Exposito, Chris Robinson, Luis Martinez, Brian Ward, John Monell, Audry Perez

Desperation "Catchers": Ryan Hubele, Morgan Clendenin, Mike Costanzo, Zach Booker, Brandon Snyder, Scott Thomas, Allen de San Miguel, David Freitas, Rossmel Perez

Too Soon to Tell: Francisco Pena, Chris O'Brien, Austin Wynns, Chance Sisco

Anonymous said...

So many guys listed who could not hit their way out of a wet paper bag, sorta like going to bat 131 times with ZerOOOOOOOOOO RBI!