Things are going well for Steve Clevenger lately. He returned to the Orioles roster 10 days ago and has been raking ever since. After going hitless on August 15th, Clevenger has hit safely in eight straight games. Over that time, he is 13-for-34 (.382 batting average) with three doubles, a home run, six RBI and six runs scored. Even better than that is the fact that Clevenger is set to become a father later today.
However, a little hot streak and the joy of fatherhood does not guarantee much in the world of professional baseball. What matters is the performance on the field and how you project going forward. Clevenger has many times been a victim of that reality, going back and forth between Norfolk and Baltimore.
So, the question popped into my mind of not whether or not Clevenger had the potential to be a star or anything. I think it is pretty clear that won't be happening. But rather, does he have the goods to be a big league baseball player for the long haul, not simply a stop gap? Can he be the home town boy who made good? As far as the Orioles go, here are some factors that I think could play a part.
You may have heard, the Orioles have some pending free agents in which a few other teams will be interested. Chief among them will be two guys who currently stand in the way of Clevenger's playing time: Matt Wieters and Chris Davis.
Wieters is one of the more well-decorated members of the Orioles, having been named an All-Star three times and earning two Gold Glove awards. Currently, he splits the time behind the plate with Caleb Joseph, in order to preserve his ever-tender throwing elbow. The switch-hitter will find himself head and shoulders above the rest of the free agent class this winter and can expect a healthy pay day despite his recent injury woes.
Davis has returned to form in 2015, falling somewhere between his impressive 2012 season and the magical 2013 season after the disaster that was last summer. He too will stick out among the top first basemen seeking new deals.
Both men are represented by Scott Boras, who tends to encourage his clients to explore free agency in order to get the best bang for their buck. So, the Orioles can almost assuredly kiss at least one of them goodbye at the season's end. That's good news for Clevenger, who has seen time at both first base and catcher in the big leagues this year and while he is likely not a candidate to start at either position regularly, it certainly makes for a competition.
Versatility is Key
Orioles manager Buck Showalter likes to have guys who can play multiple positions, like Ryan Flaherty. He also likes to have guys who can't play any positions (Jimmy Paredes), but that is less common. In reality, if you aren't going to start, Showalter needs to be able to use you in a couple of places.
Moving around the diamond is something that Clevenger has more experience with than you would think. In his minor league career he has played 452 games at catcher, 107 games at first base, 64 games at second base and six games at third base. In the bigs, he has 86 games at catcher, 13 games at first base and three games at third base.
Over 52 career innings playing first base at the major league level, Clevenger boasts a UZR/150 of 16.1. Obviously, it's a very small sample size, but it indicates he could likely play at least average defense.
Elsewhere on the diamond, he has a career minor league fielding percentage of .992 at catcher, .994 at first base, .966 at second base and .889 at third base. As a catcher, he has thrown out 135 of 369 runners (36.6 percent) in the minors and 11 of 67 (16.4 percent) in the majors.
In reality, it looks like he is best at first base and servicable behind the plate. It's possible he could play a game here or there at second base if it was necessary, but keep him away from third.
Threats within the organization
Given the way Showalter and Executive Vice-President of Baseball Operaitons Dan Duquette like to jumble rosters, this could include just about anyone under contract with the Orioles, but let's just limit it to players with a real chance to make it to the big leagues by the end of the 2016 season.
-Christian Walker: He had been flying through the system until he arrived in Norfolk. That said, he has spent some time with the O's, but has been stuck hitting around the .250 mark with the Tides in 2015. Expect him to be up in September and to get a couple games at first base and DH.
-Chance Sisco: OK, saying he will be up by the end of next year may be a bit of a stretch as he is still just 20 years old, but he has been hitting a ton this year. Reports claim he needs to work on his game behind the plate and likely add a little bit of pop to his bat, but he is one of the Orioles hottest minor leaguers.
-Trey Mancini: He is 23 years old and looks to have outgrown Double-A Bowie for the most part. He needs to hit a few more home runs to be a big league first baseman, but I see him as a September call-up in 2016.
-Caleb Joseph: This guy is the biggest threat of all. He plays Clevenger's first position and is better with the glove. Not to mention, Joseph has had a decent year with the lumber too. If Wieters leaves, Joseph will become the first choice. Second string backstops tend to be more defensive-minded, which is not Clevenger's game.
Threats outside of the organization
I already mentioned this earlier, saying that Wieters was the best catcher on the free agent market by leaps and bounds, but I will reiterate it here. If "Switch-hitting Jesus" does sign elsewhere, I doubt the O's go for any of the other marquee names. Here are some of the bigger boppers who will be looking for a new home in the winter:
FULL LIST HERE
None of those names are great enough to see the Birds splash significant cash. If a minor league deal is on the table, it could happen. Much more than that? Just stick with internal options.
First base isn't much better. If anything, it's worse. I can write the entire list right here (besides Davis, of course)
Come on, a list that has Scott on it has to be a joke, right? Napoli is the most proven guy on there, but he was not all that impressive with the Red Sox earlier this season. The organization would just as soon turn the reins over to someone like Walker.
By now, we know who Steve Clevenger is as a major league baseball player. You can put him behind the plate and he will do alright. First base is likely the better option, and right now he is excelling as the DH. It's fair to conclude from many post-game press conferences that Showalter likes him. (He likes all of his guys) It speaks to both Clevenger's personalty and his approach to baseball.
However, he is not the best fielder and even his decent ability with the wood does not provide nearly the upside of some of the O's top prospects. So, can he withstand the pressure from outside forces and maintain his spot on the Orioles roster?
My answer is "yes". While he may not be the most defensively inclined player, he holds his own and has the ability to play elsewhere in the field, which is not something many catchers can do. Some work in Spring Training could really bring that out. Not to mention, he could be a perfect late-inning bat if he is hot and someone like Flaherty or the struggling J.J. Hardy is due up.
I mean, come on. He has to be better than the likes of Ryan Lavarnway and Taylor Teagarden, right? Maybe I am looking through orange-tinted glasses.
What do you think, Camden Chat? What does the future hold for Steve Clevenger both in Birdland and beyond? Is he an MLB caliber player or just another Quadruple-A guy who can't hack it at the top level? Please let me know in the comment section down below or on Twitter @_TyYoung.