Anyone remember last year?
Well, that’s a dumb question, of course you do. But do remember the start of last year? When the Orioles went into what they honest-to-God thought was going to be a competitive year with a soft underbelly at one of the game’s most important positions?
Baltimore had hopes of being in the playoff race, but you wouldn’t have known it by looking at its catcher situation. Matt Wieters was long gone, Welington Castillo had just left, and all that were left were career backup Caleb Joseph, a far-too-raw Chance Sisco, and...nope, that was essentially it.
Fast forward a year and two-thirds, and the catcher spot isn’t just stronger in Baltimore. You could argue the Orioles are the envy of the league behind the plate.
Granted, a big, huge, massive part of that strength is only two months old. The franchise as a whole, let alone just the catcher position, was transformed by the selection of Adley Rutschman first overall in June’s MLB entry draft. The Orioles had their cornerstone, one that had many convinced he would be a star in short order, and one that happens to play catcher.
So the biggest reason the Orioles are strong at catcher long-term is someone who is still five tiers away from the big leagues.
But even so, should Rutschman be further away from the majors than is currently expected, the Orioles have a pretty good situation for the now. In Pedro Severino and Sisco, Baltimore is far from hurting behind the plate.
Severino has been one of the best stories of the season, a 26-year-old with middling prospects who has nonetheless become a consistent offensive threat in Baltimore’s improving lineup. Severino is batting .271 with 10 home runs and 29 RBI in only 210 at-bats, and he’s also compiled a .346 on-base percentage and an .803 on-base percentage.
Put another way: when Wieters had his last two back-to-back healthy seasons in Baltimore, in 2012 and ‘13, he came to the plate 593 and 579 times. Applying Severino’s stats over the average of 586 plate appearances, therefore simulating his production over the course of a healthy season as Baltimore’s full-time catcher, he’d hit 25 home runs with 71 RBI, in addition to the .346 OBP and the .803 OPS.
Add in Severino’s track record as an above-average defensive catcher, and that’s not bad. Not bad at all.
But even Sisco is part of that concept of depth at the position. He’s raised his average from .181 to .223, his slugging from .269 to .429, and his OPS from .557 to .749. Granted, that hardly reminds anyone of Mike Piazza, but it is growth, and it’s been easy to see how much more relaxed and capable Sisco has looked in the box this season.
It also wasn’t long ago that Sisco was being mentioned seriously as the team’s catcher of the future, with the upside to become a dangerous major league hitter. At only 24 years old, and with still only 290 at-bats under his belt, there’s still time for Sisco to prove those reports weren’t too far off.
So to recap, that’s a catcher who’s proven plenty capable now, another who’s looking like he still has some room to grow, and the No. 1 overall pick making his way through the minors.
That’s not bad, and it’s so much better than where the Orioles were at this point last year. Last year, they had Joseph, who went the whole 2016 season without an RBI and was on his way to slashing .219/.254/.321; Sisco, who was overwhelmed from the first pitch he faced and never got on track; and other flotsam like Austin Wynns (now at Triple-A) and Andrew Susac, who batted .115 in nine games.
That’s a big jump in one year, and while it helps to have the top pick with which to work, it’s still a noticeable improvement in a short amount of time. The Orioles are looking strong at catcher in the future, but even while they wait for that future, they could be far worse off for the present than they currently are.