Given a Chance, Sisco Flourishing

Hello Birdland! I am back after a bit of a hiatus, but I don’t think anybody could blame someone for not having much to write about when it came to the Orioles for the past offseason through the first part of the 2019 season, especially anything positive.

Here we are at the All-Star break though, and the Orioles are what we thought they would be. However, we are finally seeing glimpses of the future in players that are finally making an impact in the present. This has finally inspired me to address a few topics as I see them.


The re-emergence of Sisco

I thought Chance Sisco was ready to take over the Orioles’ staff last season, but former manager Buck Showalter was so obsessed with what Sisco couldn’t do well (throwing), he basically wrote him off. As a result, Sisco lost all confidence in his abilities both at and behind the plate and struggled through a terrible major league season and then after a demotion, a disappointing one in AAA as well. By the time he was called back up in September, it was in the role of a third catcher behind Caleb Joseph and Austin Wynns and he rarely played. A concussion sustained on September 16th from a foul ball (mercifully) ended his season.

In the offseason however, Sisco rebuilt his confidence, and although the Orioles brought in veteran Jesus Sucre and still had Wynns, the job was seen as his to lose. Just as before, he did everything he could in Spring Training to win the job, hitting .382 with a 1.298 OPS in 45 plate appearances. However, General Manager Mike Elias wanted all of the Orioles prospects to earn their promotions under his evaluation and also wanted to keep evaluating Pedro Severino who had some potential but was out of options, so Sisco was optioned to AAA Norfolk as Spring Training ended. I thought it was a terrible move at the time because the last time the Orioles did something like this, it destroyed Sisco’s confidence. The Orioles and Sisco had invested so much time to build that back up over the past offseason and during the spring, it would be a shame to see it all for nothing.

For the first month or so, it looked like Sisco was going to have another disappointing season as he was hitting near the Mendoza line (.224 AVG) and racking up the strikeouts without his usual walks and high on-base percentage. However in May, he turned that all around and wound up with a .348/.443/.708/1.151 batting line, and was beating down the door for a promotion to Baltimore as Elias had wanted to see from him. Sisco earned that promotion on June 3rd and has never looked back, and Brandon Hyde is actually now batting him in the cleanup spot against right-handed pitching, against which he has a .420 wOBA and 166 wRC+.

I would like Sisco to see some more opportunities against lefties as he was actually hitting them better in AAA this season, but the arrangement with Severino appears to be working. Sisco has also proven to be a much better catcher with the pitching staff this season, with Orioles pitchers having a 3.74 ERA with him behind the plate compared to the 5.02 ERA they had with him last season, and he’s definitely had better results than Severino (6.01 ERA). It’s clear that Sisco is the present of the Orioles behind the plate for now, and I expect he’ll continue to be the guy until the Orioles’ next catching star is ready (more on him in a bit).


2019 MLB Draft

I’ll admit I was pretty worried when Elias said that he wasn’t going to hire a scouting director last winter. Although scouting was his full time job with the Astros, being a General Manager is a big enough job on its own. And for all the credit he gets for Carlos Correa, the Astros’ other two number one selections, Mark Appel and Brady Aiken, have been huge busts. The Orioles simply could not afford to have a disaster and needed a franchise cornerstone with that top pick.

Reports surfaced right before the draft that the Orioles might be looking at other names besides Adley Rutschman and Bobby Witt Jr., as if Elias was trying to be too cute to try to draft other over slot picks later and possibly outsmart himself. Fortunately though, it was all just noise and the Orioles drafted Rutschman, a college catcher who had been compared to Matt Wieters, but was far better offensively and defensively in college and has the potential to be better than Buster Posey offensively.

I was further heartened when Elias said that Rutschman’s bat is so special that they will protect it by not playing him behind the plate all the time like the Orioles foolishly did with Matt Wieters. We may see the expectations for Wieters after his huge 2008 minor league season, finally come to fruition with Rutschman.

As for the rest of the draft, high school shortstop Gunnar Henderson is a huge get in the second round, especially because he had a chance to play with his brother Jackson at Auburn University. I also absolutely love that the Orioles went after the position depth in this draft first instead of reaching for pitching. The position depth they also went after was mainly college talent too, which may not have as high a ceiling, but puts them on a quicker path to help the Orioles. Stanford outfielder Kyle Stowers is the one to watch out of the group to be the first to reach Baltimore besides Rutschman.

In addition to Elias’ scouting ability, it seems that Assistant Director of Scouting Brad Ciolek and the rest of the department has really stepped up after the departure of Gary Rajsich, and those weren’t small shoes to fill. Rajsich was the best scouting director in the Peter Angelos era of ownership, drafting major league position players like Trey Mancini, Sisco, and DJ Stewart, and pitchers like Josh Hader, Stephen Brault and Kevin Gausman and likely future talent like Ryan Mountcastle, Grayson Rodriguez, Zac Lowther, DL Hall, Michael Baumann and Hunter Harvey among others.

So far, it seems his replacements are off to a good start.

Other thoughts

— Anthony Santander is proving to be the player the Orioles thought they had when they selected him in the Rule 5 draft in 2016. Santander is a catalyst in the Orioles lineup with a 136 wRC+ and .376 wOBA, batting 2nd against right-handed pitching, though like a lot of switch hitters, he’s struggling against left-handed pitching (85 wRC+). Still, his defense in right field (+7 DRS) in just over 141 innings is pretty impressive and the fact he can play center and left field as well bodes well for his future as a fourth outfielder at the very least.

— The Orioles need to try to trade Trey Mancini at the deadline or sooner. They have plenty of future DHs, especially with Ryan Mountcastle in AAA, and Mancini’s still prone to streaks, and is in the middle of a cold streak right now. Although he’s reduced his O-Swing% slightly and increased his BB%, Mancini is still a bit too much of a free swinger to fit in with this club for the future. With as much team control that he has left and as well as he’s doing – he’s likely at the peak of his value for a contending club and Elias should not let this opportunity pass him by if there is a good deal to be made. There will also be plenty of 1B/DH talent in the offseason for teams to sign for cheap that will negate any need for a team to deal for Mancini.

— Dan Duquette’s legacy was tied to Buck Showalter, so when one left, the other had to go for a clean slate. However, we are seeing Duquette’s legacy in the minors of the club, with pitching talent like Rodriguez, Lowther, Baumann, Keegan Akin, Dean Kremer and Alex Wells all having success. Also there is still positional talent like Mountcastle, Austin Hays and Yusniel Diaz that could be in Baltimore in the next few seasons. I think when the Orioles are winning again in a few years, fans will finally be able to look back at what Duquette did in his final few seasons, and realize that the Orioles were able to replenish their minor league system from all the trades they made to win from before 2017. I think we are already seeing that the system was never as barren as perceived by a lot of fans before he was fired.

— Speaking of people leaving, Brady Anderson’s name has vanished from the Orioles’ front office roster and that can only be a good thing. When you look at the albatross contracts to players like Alex Cobb, Darren O’Day and Mark Trumbo, it was clear Brady had no business in baseball operations. I always liked him as a player and still do, but his legacy as a front office executive is certainly one for Orioles fans to forget.

That’s all for now, but I promise to write more frequently in the future. With their 2019 draft picks about to begin their professional careers and younger talent like Sisco finally seeing playing time, the Orioles should prove to provide some entertainment value and topics to discuss, even in a lost season.

There’s always the 2020 MLB Draft to speculate about too and the race for the number one pick as the season winds down. Last year Orioles fans wanted the team to either #QuitforWitt or #PlayBadlyforAdley.

Which hashtags will we be using this year? Maybe #BustforBlaze or #TankforTorkelson?

I actually can’t wait to find out.

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