In 2019, the Orioles selected catcher Adley Rutschman with the first overall pick in the First-Year Player Draft. The switch-hitting backstop out of Oregon State quickly jumped to the top of the Orioles’ top prospects list and became a top-10 prospect throughout all of baseball. The Orioles’ plan was made very clear – Rutschman will be looked upon as the future face of the franchise.
Although he is seen as the star catcher of the future, the club still needs to pencil catchers in two major league roster spots for this season. And if you have any thoughts that Rutschman could break camp with the Orioles and start on opening day, you should stop before you disappoint yourself.
Four catchers received starts behind the dish for the Orioles last season. Pedro Severino started 80 games, Chance Sisco started 45, Austin Wynns received 20 starts and Jesus Sucre got 17. Sucre is the only one of the four who is no longer with the organization. The former three are competing for opening day roster spots along with three additional non-roster invitees in camp: Bryan Holaday, Taylor Davis and Martin Cervenka.
Severino is a favorite to earn a spot on the opening day roster and catch the majority of the time to start out the 2020 season. The 26-year-old came up in the Washington Nationals’ system, where MLB Pipeline ranked him within the club’s top 15 prospects for five consecutive seasons from 2013 through 2017. He never gained traction in the Nationals’ major plans, however, as they designated him for assignment prior to the 2019 season. That’s when he was claimed by the Orioles and went on to post a .249/.321/.420 slash line with 13 home runs in 96 games. He’s probably a lock on the roster, and I wonder if he could become a trade chip for the Orioles this summer if he continues to perform like the catcher the Nationals thought they would have.
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If you poll O’s fans on who they expect to be the two catchers on opening day, it’s likely most results would show Severino paired with Sisco. The latter was formerly a top prospect in the organization. MLB Pipeline ranked Sisco within the Orioles’ top 10 prospects for four consecutive years from 2014 to 2017, also listing him 45th on the site’s Top 100 in all of baseball in 2017. Throughout his minor league years, Sisco was known as a bat-first backstop. His abilities would almost guarantee his name being written on the lineup card regularly, but the only question was whether or not he’d stick behind the plate. So far in the majors, however, Sisco’s bat hasn’t lived up to the hype. He has slashed .203/.319/.357 with 13 homers in 404 career plate appearances from 2017 through 2019. The concerns over his defensive abilities still remain, but now questions have surfaced about his hitting. If he doesn’t improve one of the two areas, his time in the big leagues may be short-lived this season. The 25-year-old told Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com he revamped his hitting approach this past offseason, so we’ll see if his tweaks can help improve his career numbers.
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Wynns is once again involved in the mix competing for a spot on the O’s roster. Entering his age-29 season, he owns a career .239/.271/.339 slash line with five home runs in just 70 games. He doesn’t have the strongest of arms behind the dish, but his mechanics and exchange make up for it, as he possessed the best pop time on throws to second among all Orioles catchers in 2018 and the second-best in 2019. Of 78 qualified catchers last season, Severino had the 28th-best average pop time at 1.98 seconds, Wynns was 46th at 2.02 seconds, Sucre was 60th at 2.05 seconds and Sisco was 74th at 2.10. Wynns isn’t an above-average catcher behind the plate, but he can handle his own. As a 29-year-old who still has a minor league option remaining and is about average at best at everything in his game, Wynns serves as your typical third catcher to stash as depth in Triple-A Norfolk. If a change is needed at the big league level, he’s not going to hurt you.
Holaday, Davis, and Cervenka are in camp as non-roster invitees and are each pushing for an opening day roster spot. Holaday has made his rounds over the last eight seasons, serving two stints with the Detroit Tigers and making stops with the Texas Rangers, Boston Red Sox and Miami Marlins. Sporting a .241/.287/.340 slash line over 269 career games, Holaday basically presents himself as a 32-year-old version of Wynns. Holaday doesn’t do anything exceptionally well but he does provide value as a quality depth option who can use his veteran experience to be a mentor toward the younger catchers and pitchers in the organization.
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Davis is a veteran minor leaguer who could serve as an experienced shoulder to lean on for young pitchers and catchers in the minors. The 30-year-old has spent each of the last nine seasons in the Cubs’ organization, yet has only played in 20 major league games in his career. He has one homer in the majors, which just happens to be a game-tying grand slam after the Cardinals intentionally walked Kyle Schwarber to face him. Despite that exciting moment in his career, the clear role for Davis is as an experienced catcher to have in the minors. He also presents himself as a great clubhouse guy who loves to have fun, as he and the camera always seem to find each other even though he has never been known as a popular prospect. Between his personality and his experience in the minors, he should be a good fit for Double-A Bowie or Triple-A Norfolk.
Cervenka has the lowest chance of all six of these catchers to break camp with the Orioles solely because he still has yet to play in the majors. However, the 27-year-old could make history if the Birds ever call him to the show, as he would become the first major league player from the Czech Republic since Carl Linhart in 1952. Cervenka spent seven years on the Indians’ farm before the Orioles selected him in the Triple-A phase of the Rule 5 draft prior to the 2018 season. He has spent the majority of his time with Bowie before the Orioles gave him a late-season promotion to Norfolk in 2019. He recorded at least one hit in each of his 12 games with Norfolk, which helped produce a small sample slash line of .372/.438/.442. It may be tough, given the competition, for him to stick with Norfolk to start this season, but he’s a solid depth catcher who has an intriguing story to keep an eye on.
Looking toward the future, the Orioles are set behind the dish. I mentioned Rutschman being the catcher of the future for the club as he leads the pack of all prospects in the organization. But Baltimore also has a few more catchers on the farm to keep an eye on as possible backup options for Rutschman down the road.
The first of three to mention is Brett Cumberland. The 24-year-old switch-hitter was traded as part of a package from the Atlanta Braves to the Orioles in exchange for right-handers Kevin Gausman and Darren O’Day in 2018. In 46 games with Bowie last season, Cumberland slashed .248/.395/.408 with four homers. Like the next two I will be touching on, Cumberland is not featured on MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 Orioles prospects this season, but the site ranked him 29th on the O’s list in 2018 as well as 24th and 29th on the Braves’ list in 2017 and 2016, respectively.
The next two to cover were drafted by the Orioles within the first 10 rounds in 2019 after selecting Rutschman. The first is Maverick Handley, who the Birds took with their sixth round selection. Handley is known for being very defensively sound behind the dish and can provide decent on-base capabilities offensively. His .290/.393/.442 line at Stanford translated to just .202/.298/.237 in his first 41 games of professional ball. However, Handley threw out 19 of 30 attempted basestealers in the 41 games with short-season Single-A Aberdeen in 2019.
The last minor leaguer to cover is Jordan Cannon, who the O’s selected in the 10th round last season. Although the last name Cannon is a perfect fit behind the plate, the 22-year-old is more known for his bat, as he hit .372/.455/.521 with four homers in 53 games with Sam Houston State last season. In 24 games between the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and Aberdeen, Cannon batted .212/.312/.379 with one home run. When it comes to throwing out runners, he was quite the opposite of Handley in his first pro short season, as Cannon caught just two of 13 attempted basestealers. If his bat comes around to what is expected of him, it’ll be interesting to see if the O’s consider a position change for the 23-year-old. Of the three catching prospects behind Rutschman, Cannon likely has the lowest chance of reaching the majors behind the plate.
I think the Orioles will roll with the popular choices in Severino and Sisco behind the dish to start this year. If that duo can’t stick for the time being, the Birds have a few experienced backstops stashed as depth in Wynns, Holaday and Wynns, as well as two minor leaguers waiting for their first crack at the big stage in Cervenka and Cumberland. In the end, we all know that these players are placeholders for what we’re truly waiting for: Adley Rutschman’s eventual call to the show in 2021 or 2022.