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Orioles catcher Chance Sisco deserves to be in the majors

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The 23-year-old former top prospect was unexpectedly optioned to Triple-A Norfolk on Sunday.

MLB: New York Yankees at Baltimore Orioles Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The way in which in the Orioles have handled Chance Sisco this season has progressed from simply coddling a rookie, to deploying a strict platoon behind the plate, and now a full-blown misuse of the player. On Sunday, Sisco was originally slated to bat sixth in the O’s lineup, only to be scratched before first pitch in favor of Austin Wynns. Following the team’s 10-4 win, it was announced that Sisco had been optioned to Norfolk.

Sisco has not had a great season. In fact, it would be fair to say that much more was expected of the organization’s former top prospect. However, he has been miles better than Caleb Joseph, who will be replacing him for the time being, and Andrew Susac. Wynns has been steady since his promotion at the beginning of the month, but not so much so that he should have unseated Sisco as the preferred everyday backstop.

Sisco’s value in the future will likely come from his bat. Throughout the minors, he was regarded as a high contact hitter with good discipline at the plate and just a smidge of power. His 2018 campaign has been a mixed bag. In 141 plate appearances, the 23-year-old has hit .218/.340/.328 with two home runs, seven doubles and 16 RBI. His 8.5 percent walk rate has been solid, but the 35.5 percent strikeout rate is as ugly as it gets.

On the defensive side of things, Sisco has had a similar story. He only started playing catcher late in his high school career, so there are still nuances of the position to learn. His scouting reports down on the farm constantly dogged on his glove. This year, he has thrown out 10 of 36 (27.8 percent) would-be base-stealers, which is slightly above league average. However, his pitch framing needs some work as he grades out in the bottom half of the league in that category.

Despite all of these struggles, Sisco has still posted a 0.5 WAR, according to both FanGraphs and Baseball Reference. It’s not a fantastic mark, but on a team like this Orioles bunch that cannot seem to get out of its own way, Sisco has been a positive, and that’s worth something.

That 0.5 WAR is the third-best mark on the team of all of the everyday players. His .340 on-base percentage is also the third-highest at the club. The 92 wRC+ and .304 wOBA he has posted are each ranked fifth on the Orioles. It’s not a stretch to say that the rookie has been one of the lineup’s better hitters throughout the season, which makes the demotion that much more confusing.

There are plenty of ways in which Sisco can improve his game. But on a team this bad, does it make any difference if he works on those things in Baltimore or in Norfolk? Wouldn’t it make more sense for him to remain at the highest level and learn from the most talented coaches and teammates in the organization?

If the idea is to send Sisco to a league where he can dominate and then return to the bigs with a renewed confidence, that too seems flawed. The catcher spent 97 games in Norfolk last season and hit .267/.340/.395. Fine numbers for the position, but nothing eye-popping. He had fared much better at Double-A Bowie in the season prior (.320/.406/.422).

In the tweet from Meoli above, several people have responded that the reason for optioning Sisco is to stop his service time clock. At the basis of the theory, that makes sense. Sisco is a young player and the organization doesn’t want to “waste” his cheap service time. Upon closer examination, that doesn’t really hold up, at least not yet.

The way in which the Orioles have been yo-yo-ing catchers recently could mean that Sisco returns to Baltimore within a few weeks. If that happens, he could still accrue all of the service time he is missing right now and then some, per the rules of the CBA, which reward players that are optioned for fewer than 20 days at a time. On the other hand, if Susac returns to the bigs before Sisco then there may very well be some “creative” roster maneuvering going on. Although, that too seems rather petty and pointless.

In cases like this, however, sometimes the simplest answer is the truest. The Orioles don’t think Sisco is playing well enough, or least not up to his potential. In a lost season, they would rather he play more often and get away from the pressure that comes with being on a scuffling big league team.

As reasonable as that may seem, it’s still a tough pill to swallow. Struggling is part of being an athlete in the world’s top league. It’s one thing to protect a player. The Orioles had already been doing that by only playing Sisco against right-handed pitchers and, usually, placing him lower in the order. This demotion is confusing and inconsistent with the performances of others that get to stay on the MLB roster.

It’s easy enough to make the argument that Sisco is the best catcher in the entire organization. Beyond that, he is playing better than Trey Mancini, Pedro Alvarez, Joey Rickard and Jace Peterson among others. Heck, Sisco has been better than Jonathan Schoop this season. He has done all that he can in the minors. Now, he is big-league ready and it’s time for him to leave the nest and fly on his own. Juggling him between Norfolk and Baltimore will only serve to stunt the growth of a player with a promising future. In other words: this is oh so very Orioles, isn’t it?