Any rebuilding club will enter spring training with a few roster spots up for grabs, and the Orioles are no exception. However, every team has an extra decision to make this year after Major League Baseball expanded the roster capacity to 26 players.
In the past, the 25-man roster followed a relatively standard format. Most clubs would carry five starting pitchers, two catchers, seven relievers, six infielders and five outfielders.
Of course, that lineup could always be tweaked. If a team’s extra outfielder could play all three positions, it could get away with only four. A club may opt for an extra bullpen arm, another infielder, or even a third catcher. Special circumstances could always dictate a change as well.
Opening day rosters were never a guarantee to follow the basic format. Injuries, immediate days off, and Rule 5 players all played a factor. The Orioles began last season with two Rule 5 shortstops, which caused the Birds to carry seven infielders. They began the year with four outfielders, two catchers, and 12 pitchers. The Orioles kicked off 2018 with six infielders and five outfielders.
Now you may have noticed that neither club started the season with three catchers, and that’s certainly no surprise. It’s been extremely rare for a club to carry three backstops prior to rosters expanding in September, and it’s essentially unheard of on Opening Day. That’s why Mike Elias caught some off guard when he mentioned the possibility the other day.
“We’ll remain open to it,” Elias said on the topic. “Obviously, we’re going to need utility ability on our bench, and just depending on who that is and what all they can do, if it liberates us to have a third catcher, I think it’s something that we’ll look at.” Those quotes and more can be found in a recent Roch Kubatko article over on MASN.
So that’s not exactly a guarantee, but it’s interesting that Elias and Brandon Hyde are thinking it over. So who might those catchers be?
Barring a major turn of events (which did come about last year), Pedro Severino and Chance Sisco will begin the season with the Orioles. Severino slashed .249/.321/.420 across 96 games in 2019. He blasted 13 home runs, drove in 44 runs, and totaled an OPS of .740. The Orioles will certainly take that production from behind the plate until a certain Oregon State prospect makes his way to the show.
Sisco, the Orioles second round pick in 2013, continued to underwhelm at the plate last season. He slashed just .210/.333/.395 over 59 games, hit only eight home runs and drove in just 20 runs. Sisco’s bat was held in high regard throughout his minor league career, but it has yet to show up in Baltimore.
While the Orioles have gotten off to a fast start this spring, Sisco has just two hits in 14 plate appearances. Severino has a slightly better three hits in 11 at bats. Fortunately, those stats mean absolutely nothing. If these two are healthy, they’re going to make the club.
So who would be the third catcher if things shook out that way? Austin Wynns appeared in 28 games for Baltimore last season after playing in 48 the year before. Wynns slashed .214/.247/.271, but played reliable defense when called upon.
I know what you’re thinking, is there really a need to have three guys that hit under .250 on the roster? In a perfect world, absolutely not. But who else would the Orioles round out the roster with?
The utility competition is certainly the largest battle in camp. Dilson Herrera, José Rondón, Richard Ureña, Ramón Urías, Pat Valaika and Stevie Wilkerson are all in the mix. Wilkerson hit just .225 last season, and Valaika hit .190 in Colorado. While they may be able to play a high number of positions, the offensive totals are relatively low.
Both Rule 5 selections, Brandon Bailey and Michael Rucker, are pitchers who will likely make the club without special arrangements. DJ Stewart’s injury may reduce the chance of the Orioles carrying five outfielders. If the O’s determine Richie Martin should begin the year at Norfolk, it’s difficult to picture the club carrying more than seven infielders.
There’s also the possibility that adding a third catcher into the mix would help Sisco develop. The extra rest and ability to serve as the designated hitter could benefit the 25-year-old. It also would provide Wynns a chance to show he belongs at the Big League level. At a minimum, it allows the Orioles to have eyes on all three players.
It’s simply too early to tell which direction the Orioles will go at the end of the month. The extra roster spot allows Baltimore more roster flexibility, and the chance to evaluate an extra player. With the back-end of the rotation anything but secure, the Orioles may also feel a need to carry an extra swingman or traditional reliever as well.
While the utility competition could conclude with multiple candidates Major League ready, it would not link the O’s to that format for the remainder of the year. As certain players succeed, others flounder, and injuries come about, don’t be surprised if you see a third catcher in Baltimore at some point this season.