Taking a look at the catchers

It wasn’t too long ago that the Baltimore Orioles had an everyday catcher to rely on without question. Each lineup that former manager Buck Showalter penciled in contained the dependable, Tommy John arm repaired, first-round draft pick from Georgia Tech, Matt Wieters.

Free Agency happens though, and the Orioles are entering their third full season without their homegrown prodigy. Replacing Wieters over the past two seasons has been a challenge. Caleb Joseph has been the go-to guy, catching 160 games over the past two seasons and although his ability behind the plate was welcomed, his bat was never anything special.

Welington Castillo was signed to a one-year deal and caught 96 games in 2017. He finished fourth on the team in batting average that season, hitting .282 and blasted 20 home runs. But Castillo was never the long-term solution for the organization.

Other catchers over the past two seasons have included Francisco Peña, Andrew Susac, Chance Sisco and Austin Wynns. The three latter are still within the organization.

Peña was just recently granted free agency after appearing in 58 games with the St. Louis Cardinals. Susac, who was designated for assignment on January 11, has cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Norfolk Thursday. Sisco and Wynns, each drafted by the Orioles in 2013, are figuring to be part of the team’s rebuild.

Planning for the future

As mentioned above, Caleb Joseph was the go-to catcher since Wieters’ departure. However, he was non-tendered on November 30 after spending five seasons with the Orioles. Joseph was drafted in the seventh round of the 2008 MLB Draft and spent six seasons in the minors before making his big league debut. Whether or not new General Manager Mike Elias wants to bring him back has yet to be determined, but the team needs a veteran catcher on the 25-man roster.

Signing a veteran catcher will only boost the further development of the two current catchers, Sisco and Wynns. Sisco has the experience over Wynns, as he’s appeared in 73 games over two seasons. Compare that to Wynns’ 42, but each are still very much considered inexperienced for the majors.

After making his big-league debut last June, Wynns went 5-for-26 before being optioned back to the minors. However, his counterpart was sent back to Triple-A Norfolk twice – first in June, for 12 games and later in July, for 44. After going just 2-for-22 in eight games in July, Sisco was sent back down allowing Wynns to make his way back to Baltimore for the remainder of the season.

While Wynns finished his first big league season with a .255/.287/.382 slash line, his defense was what could earn him a spot on the 25-man roster for 2019. Having gunned down 7-of-15 would-be base stealers, his 32% caught stealing rate was 4% higher than the league average. It’s a small sample size, but you have to start somewhere.

Other options out there

As mentioned above, the Orioles are in need of a veteran presence behind the plate. There are still a flurry of recognizable names on the free agent market. Veterans Martín Maldonado, A.J. Ellis and Jarrod Saltalamacchia are still out there. Former Oriole Nick Hundley joins Wieters and Joseph as still needing a home for 2019. Here’s the full list of catchers available.

Surely, the organization isn’t going to dish out a multi-year contract on a veteran catcher if they feel that Sisco and Wynns are their number one and two guys moving forward. However, giving a one-year deal to a veteran like Hundley, Saltalamacchia or Ellis wouldn’t be something out of this world.

Hundley, 35, or Saltalamacchia, 34, may each be good for the Orioles as they grind through the beginning of their rebuild. I’d say bring either in on one-year deals and they could work with the further development of Sisco and Wynns. The win-win here is that either could also work with young pitchers such as David Hess and Josh Rogers to improve their chances of remaining with the big league club. Roster Resource projects each starter to toss at least 125 innings this season.

It doesn’t hurt that Hundley and Saltalamacchia lead active free agent catchers in fewest passed balls allowed, each allowing 56.

Brian Pinter

Brian Pinter is the Director of Coverage on the Baltimore Orioles for Maryland Sports Blog. His views and opinions are that of his own and he welcomes any and all discussions. Follow along with Brian Pinter this season on Twitter, @b_pinter23.

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