The long never ending back to back to back games of a baseball season constantly illuminate that depth in team building can be among the most important aspects of a General Manager's job. The guy behind the guy behind the guy can prove to be more important to the fate of a season than the star player. Ever since May 2014 the Orioles have had to play either entirely without or basically without Matt Wieters.
Wieters, somewhat surprisingly (to me anyways), is back for at least one more year after accepting the Orioles qualifying offer. Yet again, his right elbow has developed some soreness and concerns keep bubbling up. This Spring Training has been one of the few times over the past 22 months that he has caught on back to back days--not even completing nine innings in those games--and the right elbow has flared up again.
While the MRI came back clean, Tommy John surgeries do not have a 100% success rate and Wieters continued inability to remain healthy has to worry the Orioles front office. The depth at the catcher position
will may come into play with Wieters struggling to maintain a fully functioning elbow.
Caleb Joseph has the obvious hold on Wieters' direct backup, but even he has shown some signs of fatigue over the past couple of seasons and an injury to him really begins to test the Orioles depth. Even without time lost to injury from Joseph, the third and fourth catchers on the roster will play a significant role if Wieters misses any time or has to be skipped to allow for more rest. After the trading of Steve Clevenger, the Orioles have some new faces at third and fourth catchers.
The most likely candidate to sit at AAA Norfolk and bide his time for an injury is Francisco Pena. Pena is the son of former major leaguer and current Yankees coach Tony Pena. The 26 year old has been a part of the Mets and Royals organizations and has the all important one minor league option remaining. Even without an injury, Pena could see some time on the roster if one of the top two go down with a day to day injury.
Pena hit a solid .795 OPS in 2014 in AAA Omaha boosted by 27 home runs, but that was in a notoriously hitter friendly Pacific Coast League. In 2015, again in Omaha, he posted .734 OPS with only 13 home runs. Most scouting reports start and end with his defensive prowess which is said to be pretty good. A little potential pop and a good glove from the third catcher is pretty good get considering the Orioles only surrendered cash considerations to receive the rights to Pena from the Royals. Again, if Wieters or Joseph misses anytime, expect Pena to be the first guy on the shuttle.
The dark horse backup to the backup is Audry Perez. Perez, 27, was acquired for the ever present cash considerations last year from the Rockies during Spring Training. He sat at AAA Norfolk all year long posting a meager .582 OPS. He posted a .717 OPS in AAA for the Cardinals in 2014, but has not really shown much offensive production otherwise since his days in the lower minors. Much like any number of minor league catchers, Perez is a glove first guy. He is the break glass in case of an emergency guy and that might be giving him too much credit.
The guy even more unlikely than Perez, although much more interesting, is the last standing Orioles prospect Chance Sisco. Sisco, a mere 21, played 95 games between high A Frederick and AA Bowie and did not disappoint posting a .791 OPS overall in his age 20 season. He has consistently hit well in the minor leagues and is rated among the best Orioles prospects. For instance, the Fangarphs KATOH system--which takes into account minor league statistics that have shown to be predictive of major league success--ranked Sisco the 9th best prospect in baseball.
The interesting about Sisco is that while he hits well, his defense needs some more seasoning. AA Bowie will be the proving ground to see if SIsco can improve behind the dish. Another position may be a struggle to find and his bat, while great for a catcher, may lack the pop to play another spot on the field. This makes it unlikely Sisco sees time with the major league team in 2016. Unless he takes an unprecedented leap forward to supplant the top two catchers or a catastrophe at the position comes along, Sisco will not see much time in Baltimore.
Right now, worrying about Matt Wieters' elbow may be overly cautious. But, depth is always important and the past two seasons have shown us that trusting in Matt Wieters' elbow is not a great proposition. The most likely candidate to be called into duty is Francisco Pena who has an option and a supposed above average defensive ability. Regardless, if Wieters cannot remain healthy the guys in AAA start to matter a whole lot more to a 2016 season the Orioles are counting on to be a good one.