A season ago, the Orioles had what may have been the worst collection of catchers in Major League Baseball. Chance Sisco, then a rookie, struggled mightily both in the field and at the plate. Caleb Joseph’s bat was even worse. And Austin Wynns was steady but unspectacular in his limited opportunities.
Despite this, the O’s new front office did not do much to address their shortcomings behind the plate ahead of spring training. Jesus Sucre, a glove-first backstop, looked like the only newbie with a chance to shake up the organizational depth chart. Going into the team’s final days in Sarasota, it seemed as if the catching duo of Sisco and Sucre were a lock to head north for the summer.
Then, less than a week before opening day, the team found a new catcher. O’s GM Mike Elias put in a waiver claim to grab Pedro Severino from the Washington Nationals. Just like that, Sisco was sent to minor league camp and Severino was moved to the big league roster.
Severino began the regular season splitting time with Sucre. But as the first month of the season wore on, Severino continued to outplay Sucre on both sides of the ball, eventually pulling ahead of the veteran for playing time.
Sucre has since been sent to Triple-A Norfolk and been replaced by Wynns in Baltimore. Manager Brandon Hyde toggles between his two catching options regularly, but the 25-year-old Severino is playing the best baseball of his fairly brief major league career.
Before you even say it, just know that I am aware of the small sample sizes at play here. Severino has only stepped to the plate 70 times this season. Track records speak for themselves, and Severino has shown over his 517 career minor league games, and parts of four seasons with the big league Nationals, what he is. This is a guy that will go as far in his career as his glove and arm take him, but it’s fun to talk about unexpected offensive outbursts, so let’s get into that.
Severino’s .246 batting average and .333 on-base percentage aren’t going to blow anyone away, but the right-handed hitter has been putting up solid power numbers (.475 slugging percentage) to buoy his offensive output. Through 20 games, “Sevy” has five home runs and two doubles. Coming into this season, he had hit just four home runs total in 105 previous major league contests.
This success has resulted in a 111 OPS+, 108 wRC+ and .237 ISO, all measures that put him firmly in the top half of the league among catchers. That’s not too shabby for a player that was previously thought of as a defensive specialist.
Of course, we would be remiss to not mention his work with the leather.
Baseball Savant does not have pop times for 2019 available, but we can imagine they are similar to 2018, when Severino was tied for 16th (out of 67) in MLB with a 1.98 second pop time.
He’s shown off that arm this season, throwing out seven of the 10 runners that have attempted a stolen base while he was catching. That .700 caught stealing rate is the best in the big leagues. FanGraphs credits Severino with three runs saved as a result of throwing out baserunners alone.
Severino’s 4.1 defensive rating overall, according to FanGraphs, is the seventh best in all of baseball. That is a distinction made even more impressive when considering the state of the Orioles pitching staff, which is likely the worst in the entire sport.
But really, what makes Severino special is not his occasional home run or laser arm or even his handling of a largely inexperienced pitching staff.
No, no, no. It’s his GIF-ability.
Behold, people of Camden Chat. We are in the presence of greatness.
Finally time to play ball! Join us for Angels-Orioles now on MASN. pic.twitter.com/z0btbOYalZ— Orioles on MASN (@masnOrioles) May 12, 2019
It’s sort of his thing. And with pitchers like the Orioles have, can you really blame him? If it were me in the gear, I might just walk off the field completely and hand my glove to Wynns on the bench.
We got INTENSE catchers. This is Severino. pic.twitter.com/kl0jgVbAi4— The Warehouse Podcast (@TheWarehousePod) April 7, 2019
Severino’s passion is a lot of fun to watch no matter when it happens. He gets excited just about every time he reaches base. He emphatically requests the home plate umpire to verify check swings. And he gets noticeably distressed when his pitchers hang a slider, which, ya know, happens quite a lot with this bunch.
In all seriousness, Severino has been a pleasant surprise so far. He holds his own at the plate, can provide a little pop on occasion, is steady in the field and is young enough that he has an actual chance to play a role, of some kind, on a good Orioles team in the future. There aren’t too many other players on this roster for which that can be said with any level of confidence.
That said, let’s not go full Dempsey on Severino:
Did I just hear Uncle Rick express reservations about drafting Rutschman because Severino is "their guy for the future?" pic.twitter.com/4ASKUpOQpj— Eutaw Street Report (@EutawStReport) April 26, 2019
Severino has had a nice first month and a half of the season. Until he proves otherwise, it’s just that, nothing more. He’s been good at the plate, but won’t challenge the upper echelon of offensive catchers. And his work behind the plate has been solid, but he is still likely outside of the Gold Glove tier of defenders. Regardless of his performance, it should not impact the Orioles draft decisions. They should pick the best player available. Period. If, in their opinion, that is Adley Rutschman, then so be it.
For now, Severino’s meager salary reflects his relatively limited major league experience. As he continues to perform and then goes through arbitration, that salary will increase. By the time the Orioles are ready to compete, it’s possible they will look for a cheaper catching option, as they did when they non-tendered Joseph this past off-season. It’s an unsavory part of baseball business, but it shouldn’t soil how enjoyable Severino is to have around at this moment. He’s working his way into “fan favorite” territory, and may already be there.