24 August 2018

Orioles State of Catching: 2019-2023

The last two seasons brought about a certain kind of uncertainty that was last familiar in 2009: who exactly is catching for the Orioles.  The stability that Matt Wieters brought to the organization was shouldered last year by Wellington Castillo having a rather remarkable year.  This year, so much hope was placed on Caleb Joseph and his resurgent 2017 as well as the up and coming Chance Sisco, a catching prospect we have written here should be moved off the plate for several years now.

2017 came out as "Nuts!"  Caleb Joseph, now in his age 32 season (yes, 32), did not dream up a 2017, 2015 or 2014 season, but regressed to be more in his 2016 form.  Chance Sisco (again, a player we said was not a catcher) appeared to suggest repeatedly that not only is he not a catcher, but perhaps his contact oriented approach at the plate may not exactly transition well to the Major Leagues.  The conventional wisdom now has gravitated toward our view that Sisco is actually not much of a prospect.

This leaves us to wonder what exactly is the situation to look like at catcher for the next several seasons, which is a bit abstract as the organization lacks a true heir.  Here is a list of the most notable right now in the organization:

Catcher Table
Name Age Lev BA OBP SLG Pos Summary
Joseph, Caleb32MAJ,AAA.232.283.345C-77, DH-9, 1B-1
Sisco, Chance *23MAJ,AAA.208.304.304C-81
Wynns, Austin27AAA,MAJ.241.292.377C-62, DH-2
Cervenka, Martin25AA.256.313.449C-86, DH-3
Cumberland, Brett#23H-A,AA.223.352.382C-67, DH-27
Fajardo, Daniel23H-A.280.315.381C-52, DH-2
Quevedo, Yojhan24H-A.287.312.427C-33, DH-5
Breazeale, Ben*23L-A.238.340.313C-53, DH-13
Carrillo, Jean21L-A.250.322.308C-60, DH-1
Roberts, Cody22SS.272.321.368C-25, DH-9, RF-1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/23/2018.

Caleb Joseph is an interesting question.  The Orioles have two more option years on him and he should come in around 1.5 to 3 MM a season during those two years.  That is a fairly cheap price to pay for a catcher who has a good ability to handle a pitching staff and can have decent runs at the plate.  The negative that has chased Joseph all these years is that he wears down fast.  That was seen as the issue why he looked like a non-prospect bat first catcher in the minors.  When he was forced into a MLB position when Wieters went down several years ago, his workload decreased, and he performed much, much better behind and beside the plate.  As he gets older, he likely will need more and more rest.  Regardless, he is not a starter and he is certainly entering into non-tender territory.

Chance Sisco was originally seen within the organization and among scouting circles as a natural pairing to Joseph.  Sisco, hitting from the left side, could serve as a strong platoon partner to Joseph.  Sisco has had two red flags on him: (1) his bat is heavily dependent on contact and not much else and (2) his defense is not adequate.  If you are a veteran reader of the site, then you know that bad defense amateur catchers turn into bad defense professional catchers.  That is fairly dependable and, unfortunately, Sisco is showing that with him projected to be around a -15 run defensive catcher over 125 games.  It will take a significant leap from his bat to cover that spread or, hopefully, an unexpected improvement behind the plate.  As a scout told me once, "You are right, the Orioles should have traded Sisco when teams were asking for him last year at the deadline."

Behind them is Austin Wynns or "Caleb Joseph, Jr.".  Wynn is a player the Orioles might go with if Joseph at 2 MM is less appealing than Wynns at 0.5 MM.  Neither are particularly remarkable players at this point, but both appear to be solid defense first backups.  A true defensive catcher is hard to find, but that typically requires some measure of offense which is an aspect that Wynns has difficulty with.  He may be more suited to ride the Baltimore to Norfolk shuttle until pressed into a 25 man roster position or moving on when the options run out.

Martin Cervenka looks like "Caleb Joseph, III".  This, of course, makes it look like perhaps Caleb Joseph might be non-tendered.

Brett Cumberland is the last player I will discuss here (feel free to ask me about any of the other catchers in the system if you wish in the comments).  Cumberland was arguably the best player the Orioles got back from the Braves in the Gausman deal (unless you are like me and think the best player is Jean Carlos Encarnacion).  Cumberland was a second round overslot pick of the Braves.  He had a very promising bat and looked nothing like a catcher behind the plate, but the Braves had hope.  Scouting reports on his defense were poor and the bat looked a bit overmatched in his first couple years, but 2018 has some helium attached to him.  He reportedly made major strides in his footwork, which has helped him not only block balls better but also greatly reduce his pop times to second base.

The hope is that Cumberland's bat continues to develop and the improvement seen in his defense carries forward, perhaps even improving.  Within the entire system, Cumberland is the only catcher who looks to have an upside, but again it is attached to aspects that are difficult for a player to typically improve upon.  That outlook looks much better today than it did a year ago, so maybe he is one of the rare ones to make the transition.

Below are five year projections of WAR (set to 120 games):

120g proj Joseph Sisco Wynns Cervenka Cumberland
2019 1.0 0.2 -0.4 -0.5 -0.3
2020 0.9 0.2 -0.3 -0.2 -0.1
2021 0.7 0.3 -0.3 -0.1 0.2
2022 0.5 0.4 -0.3 -0.1 0.4
2023 0.2 0.4 -0.3 -0.1 0.5

Five Year Planning
What the above tells us is that the Orioles have no firm solution for their catching position.  They appear to have a bevy of backup options with different makeups, but no single player who has the characteristics of a full fledged starting catcher.  Two, Sisco and Cumberland, may be able to thread the needle and achieve that starting catcher status, but the club should not feel obligated to depend on that.  The position should be seen as wide open with active processes to find a long term solution.


Jan Frel said...

The only non-wide open position for the O's through 2023 is 1B.

And that, folks is the funniest thing I will type today.

These are the times that try O's fan's souls. For those of us who were O's fans from 1998-2011, 18 months of overhaul and 4+ more seasons of rebuilding will be no sweat. 700 terrible box scores from now, promise 'could' be in the air.

Pip said...

Caleb’s arbitration salary will only be about 1.5 million, which is nothing. He’s far superior to Sisco. He should certainly be worth the cost for what he gives in defense.
And Wynns seems to be hitting well. Not that many ABs but he seems to be ok.

Rob said...

I've been frustrated Joseph is getting so many starts right now. Why not run Wynns out there every two of three games to see how he does under that workload? We already know what we (don't) have with Joseph, give Wynns as much experience as possible over the next five weeks and see if anything clicks.

Unknown said...

Where is Sisco bad defensivly? Too many stolen basis allowed? Too many passed balls? I really didn't pay attention to him. Fangraphs has him at a 4.2 Def. War for 2018 which seems pretty good I guess.

Mr. Carbaugh said...

Best hope for the Orioles is to draft Oregon's Adley Rutschman. The potential for him to move quickly through the system is there.

Unknown said...

Siscos below average or worse at all aspects of catching. He has been better then expected defensively imo this year it looks.

Hopefully he learns to hit at the ML level. He REALLY needs to hit to make his profile work tho and this year is extremely disappointing.

Unknown said...

Let Joseph go and give Wyms/Sisco the shot next year. Nothing to lose.

Jon Shepherd said...

We have addressed that here quite a bit in the past. If you want a metric that stabilizes quickly, then you want pop time and he is one of the slowest to second. Good accuracy in the throws which is why he gets some out, but not many. Footwork is fairly poor. Not a good feel for glovework and lacks forearm strength or control.

Fangraphs sees him as being decent with passed balls and baserunning. Passed balls are fine largely because he has not caught challenging pitchers. Stolen bases look OK because situations have not come up and the Orioles organization does what it can to get the pitchers to get the ball home as quickly as possible, which reduces athleticism in their pitching due to the emphasis of the side step.

Jon Shepherd said...

As we go around the field, they need a best hope for several positions.

Jon Shepherd said...

I think the Orioles and several pitchers did not like how Wynns calls or presents pitches. He does everything else fairly well. I think the suspicion is that when runners are on base he tries to get pitches where he has a great chance of throwing any potential runner out. Once a batter realizes that, it shrinks the strike zone. I have not seen that with Wynns, but heard a rumble about it. Not certain of its veracity.

The most famous catcher to really undermine his pitchers with that was Ivan Rodriguez. Watch old games with runners on base and see how many times pitchers shake him off. Kind of humorous.