When you’re a rebuilding team, you can never really sit back, kick up your feet and consider the work finished. And this offseason, the Orioles are no exception.
As our own Andrea SK explained, there are several positions and roles to fill in the infield. Pitching always can be improved. It wouldn’t hurt to add another outfielder to compete for a job. The farm system needs to be monitored to see who needs to move up, move down or stay put.
At catcher, though, the Orioles can say they’ve got that spot covered.
The future of the position has been set for a while now. When the Orioles drafted Adley Rutschman first overall in 2019, they got a player that scouts began raving about in his junior season at Oregon State, when he won the Most Outstanding Player award at the College World Series. The rave reviews have only continued since his professional arrival, with Rutschman getting heaps of praise for his demeanor, his work ethic and - of course - his ability.
But the Orioles don’t just have a lottery ticket that they’re waiting to cash in. They’re in a good spot at catcher because they have flexibility, and they have flexibility because they have the present taken care of while they wait for the shining future.
In Pedro Severino and Chance Sisco, the O’s have a pair of players who can hold the fort for the weeks, months or years it takes for Rutschman to finally arrive. At a glance, there doesn’t seem to be much there. Severino hit .250 with a .710 OPS, Sisco batted .214 with a .741 OPS. Big deal.
At a position at which offense is difficult to find, however, the two players give the Orioles encouraging options. Severino’s final stats don’t tell the story of his season. The 27-year-old went into a frigid snap to finish the season, managing one hit in his last 28 at-bats. Forty games into his season, however, Severino had the look of a would-have-been All-Star. He was sitting on a .295 average, with a .462 slugging percentage and an .834 slugging percentage.
Those stats over a 162-game projection come out to 21 home runs and 86 RBI. Take those stats and combine them with his 2019 stats, and the result is that, for 136 of the 144 games he’s played with a smiling bird on his helmet, Severino has been a .263 hitter with 18 home runs, 65 RBI and a .768 OPS. Considering the above-average defense he’s played in that time, that’s a more-than-suitable option behind the plate.
That does require one to look at his cold snap at the end of the season as just that, a slump that in a normal season he would have had plenty of time to bust. It seems more fair to evaluate Severino by the 94 percent of his career than the last six.
Sisco is a harder sell. The hopes of the former second-round pick taking a substantial step forward just haven’t come to fruition, and with another sub-.220 average turned in, it’s looking more and more like the 25-year-old just simply has a low ceiling at the plate.
That being said, Sisco did make an improvement in his plate discipline. His on-base percentage climbed from .333 to .364, a result of his going from 22 walks in 198 plate appearances to 17 free passes in 121 at-bats, and it led to his OPS+ rising to 105, a figure higher than Severino has compiled in each season with the team. He also barreled up 12.3 percent of pitches compared to 10.4 a season ago, which is a modest uptick, but nonetheless one that suggests he is improving, even if it’s at a far more gradual clip than the team originally hoped.
What this means is that the Orioles have what any team wants: options. They’re not in a position to suffer while waiting for the franchise player to arrive, nor are they in a position to force Rutschman to make his big league debut before he’s ready. Having two decent options at the major league level already takes the pressure off the club, which takes the pressure off the prospect.
With a player of Rutschman’s profile, you want to get the timing right. Sometimes, that means waiting. If that’s what it means in this case, the Orioles have that luxury.
And if Rutschman is ripping up the competition from the get-go, and a promotion seems due ahead of time, the Orioles can go that route too.
In other words, the Orioles can go at the pace at which they’re comfortable. And even if it’s just one position, that’s a good spot in which to be.