Originally drafted by the Orioles in the 10th round of the 2013 MLB Draft, catcher Austin Wynns has spent the past five plus years in the minor leagues. He made his major league debut this year at age 27.
When he was called up, Wynns was ranked as the Orioles’ 22nd best prospect on MLB Pipeline, as detailed in Tyler Young’s in-season article on the young catcher. Wynns started 2018 in the minor leagues with the Norfolk Tides, batting .230/.288/.345 with four home runs and 16 RBI in 139 at-bats.
For a short time, it seemed as though Wynns would pair with veteran Caleb Joseph to start the year as a catching platoon. The right-handed hitting catcher had a good spring training behind the plate and did alright at the plate, but just narrowly missed making the club at the end of March. He hit .222/.391/.556 with a pair of home runs while prepping for the season in Sarasota.
But the Orioles went with the more highly touted catching prospect at the time, Chance Sisco, and put him in a platoon with Joseph to start the year. That only lasted about two months into the season. On May 17, the underperforming Joseph was sent down to Norfolk.
For whatever reason, Sisco was not given much of a chance, either. He was optioned to Triple-A on June 17. The Orioles didn’t seem to know what to do at the catcher position, opting to shuffle guys around quite frequently.
No one at the catcher position was hitting for the team early in the season, and by calling up Wynns, the Orioles placed a priority on defense.
A semi-regular on the Norfolk shuttle this year, Wynns was recalled from Triple-A on June 5 and spent 23 days with the big league club before being optioned back to Norfolk on June 28. He was recalled to the O’s again on July 14, this time for good.
For the last two months of the season, Wynns played nearly half of the time — 29 out of 56 games. With Sisco toiling away in the minors or mostly on the bench when he was in the majors, Wynns paired with Joseph to handle the majority of the catching duties.
In 41 games, Wynns threw out 7-of-22 base stealers, good for a 32% caught stealing percentage. For comparison, Joseph had a 33% CS in 79 games and Sisco had a 31% CS in 51 games.
Wynns ended the season with 110 major league at-bats, during which time he slashed .255/.287/.382 with four home runs and 11 RBI. His career minor league batting line is .266/.332/.367.
His season slash line still leaves something to be desired, but that is not Wynns’ profile. He is more known as a game manager and defensive catcher. And he seemed to gain the trust of fellow players and coaches alike as the season went on. Wynns really solidified himself as a dependable player this year.
He drew some high praise from a starting pitcher and his now former manager, shown in this Pressbox Online article from late August. Buck Showalter had the following to say about Wynns in the aforementioned article:
“People like him. Pitchers like him, managers like him that he’s played for,” Showalter said. “And that comes from a lot of things he brings. He’s got a chance to be a real trustworthy player.”
Starting pitcher Alex Cobb said the following about Wynns in the same article:
“...he’s grown so much since he first got up here. He’s learned me as a pitcher and what I like to do and he’s helped me navigate through lineups and starting to get a lot more confidence back there in his pitch calling and trusting his eyes, too.”
Wynns seems like the kind of guy who has earned a spot going forward on this rebuilding club. He has shown the ability to work well with pitchers and handle the little things behind the plate that matter most at the position. He may not hit that much, but that comes secondary to the skills just mentioned.
He may be a bit exposed as the sole full-time catcher, but the Orioles could pair him again with Joseph or Sisco and have another platoon at the position. It will be ever so important in these times to have a steady hand behind the plate to bring along the next crop of young pitchers who will the pace the Orioles for the coming years.