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Orioles need to figure out a plan at the catcher position

The Orioles’ offensive output from the catcher position this year has been even lower than the modest league average and the team needs to find a way to improve in that department for next year and beyond.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Most times, catchers are judged by their defense, leadership and ability to handle a pitching staff. Any offense they may provide can be considered extra when the aforementioned qualities are abundant. But the average catcher’s batting line across Major League Baseball (.233/.304/.375 with 15 home runs and 62 RBI) shows that in reality, backstops are not contributing much offensively this year.

Those counting stats aren’t terrible, but the triple slash line has a lot of room for improvement.

Granted, the league average catcher does not offer much offensive upside, but the Orioles still have a lot of work to do to improve the position, where O’s backstops are hitting a combined .212/.269/.320 with eight home runs and 40 RBI on the year.

This season started with a platoon of Caleb Joseph and Chance Sisco, but things got confusing very quickly from there. Andrew Susac had a brief audition before being shuttled back to Norfolk. Sisco was up and down and Joseph even had a lengthy stay in the minors at one point. And oh yeah, there’s also Austin Wynns, who has had a few call-ups this year and has been getting a lot of starts recently.

I never thought I’d say this, but I kind of miss Matt Wieters, who hit .256/.318/.421 from 2009-2016 with the O’s while averaging 15 home runs and 55 RBI per year. He never lived up to the hype, but that batting line is much better than the league average and O’s average this year.

In fact, just last year, the catching tandem of Wellington Castillo and Joseph combined to hit .275/.313/.478 with 31 home runs and 82 RBI.

In 2017, Castillo appeared in 88 games at catcher and finished the year hitting .282/.323/.490 with 20 home runs and 53 RBI. But he’s with the White Sox now. Caleb Jospeh played 79 games at catcher for the O’s last year and ended the season with a slash line of .256/.287/.413 with eight home runs and 28 RBI. Only two other players appeared at the catcher position in 2017: Francisco Pena (5 games) and Chance Sisco (10 games).

What used to be an offensive strength of the team has turned into a glaring weakness this year.

As mentioned earlier, all four catchers who appeared on the roster this year have spent at least some time in the minors over the course of this season, for reasons other than injury rehab. It has been a rotating cast of characters at the position, to say the least.

Caleb Joseph has gotten the bulk of the starts in 2018, hitting .214/.254/.324 with three home runs and 17 RBI in 72 games. He was even sent to Norfolk on May 17 and wasn’t recalled until June 19.

Known for being a decent hitter in the minors, Joseph has never been able to put it together in the Show. He owns a .223/.271/.354 career batting line in the majors versus a .268/.327/.423 line in the minors. You have to wonder if the Orioles will stick with him another year after he made $1.125 million and is probably due a raise in arbitration next year.

Austin Wynns, recalled two times this year, has been known as a defense first catcher in the minors. He has hit .259/.286/.395 with three home runs and nine RBI in 31 games in the majors this year. Important to note, he is younger and cheaper than Joseph.

Andrew Susac is unfortunately a bit of an afterthought, seeing as he hit .115/.115/.154 in nine games. He only had a brief stay with the O’s this year, getting called up on May 17 and optioned back to Norfolk on June 2. He was a high draft pick by the San Francisco Giants in 2011 with a lot of potential, but has had some trouble with injuries throughout his career.

Chance Sisco has been perhaps the biggest disappointment at the position this year. Heralded as the catcher of the future with an ability to hit for a high average with a good batting eye, he has struggled to a .185/.293/.274 batting line with two home runs and 16 RBI in 61 games.

Sisco has been recalled twice this year, after starting the season with the big league club, and we have yet to see the hitting aptitude that made him a top prospect for the O’s in the past.

Like most parts of the ball club, the Orioles have a lot of work to do at the catcher position before next season. It will be interesting to see if they try to go out and sign a stop gap player or choose to stay in house and let the younger guys continue to develop. Either way, improvements need to be made.