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Predict the future -- Caleb Joseph

Not many people commented on the entry about left-handed pitcher Zach Britton, so check it out and offer your thoughts when you get a chance.

The few readers who participated in the discussion about the 21-year-old starting pitcher believe he will continue to show improvement during the 2009 season. Everyone mentioned that a surplus of starters in the Orioles' minor league system could hurt Britton's chances to make it to the major leagues, but they noted that it's good for the organization as a whole.

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While I agree that there are several pitchers in front of Britton in the minor leagues at this point, he has the ability to climb the list in the future. Britton is definitely an under-the-radar type who could catapult into the top level of the organization's pitching depth with another strong performance in 2009.

Like I said in the previous entry, look for the 6-foot-2, 172-pound pitcher to increase the strikeouts this season and earn 10-15 wins. He's going to make people notice his ability with his performance on the field.

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While Orioles prospect Matt Wieters is earning all of the publicity – including the designation of Baseball America's No. 1 prospect for 2009 – fans should keep an eye on another catcher at the lower levels of the organization.

Caleb Joseph, who the Orioles selected in the seventh round of last year's MLB draft, played in 63 games for the short-season Single-A Aberdeen IronBirds in 2008. The 22-year-old catcher hit .261 with eight home runs and 34 RBIs. Joseph was tied for fifth in the New York-Penn League with 19 doubles.

The biggest criticism of Joseph's performance with the IronBirds is probably his plate discipline. The 6-foot-3, 180-pound catcher had 56 strikeouts and 15 walks during the 2008 season. If Joseph can work the count and cut down on the strikeouts, the batting average should climb to a higher level in the future.

Prior to being drafted by the Orioles, Joseph played for three seasons at Lipscomb University in Tennessee. He struggled during his first season for the Bisons, hitting .265 with no home runs and 22 RBIs in 45 games.

In his final two years, however, Joseph showed tremendous improvement.

He batted .335 with 25 doubles, eight home runs and 48 RBIs in 56 games during the 2007 season. Joseph also had 11 stolen bases that year, and he was only caught stealing twice.

In his final season at Lipscomb, Joseph emerged as a power hitter and led the Bisons to the Atlantic Sun championship. He batted .342 with 17 home runs and 61 RBIs in 63 games. Joseph also had 20 doubles, and he led the conference in total bases (160). He was selected as the Most Valuable Player of the postseason tournament after hitting .407 with two home runs, seven RBIs, 10 runs scored and three stolen bases in five games.

Defensively, Joseph has shown that he's capable of being an above-average catcher. He threw out 29 of 67 (43%) base runners attempting to steal in 2008 with the IronBirds. It's possible that Joseph could switch positions in the future, particularly if Wieters locks up the position with the Orioles as expected, but that shouldn't happen anytime soon.

It's probably logical for Joseph to start the season with the Single-A Delmarva Shorebirds, but don't be surprised if he plays with the Single-A Frederick Keys from the beginning. He's a little bit older than the typical low-level players, so it will be good to move him along quickly if he can handle it.

Overall, I'd expect Joseph to hit a lot of doubles again in 2009. His batting average, home runs and RBIs will also improve this season, but the telling sign will be what happens to his strikeouts and walks. Joseph needs to work on the plate discipline in order to climb through the Orioles' minor league system.

What are your thoughts on Joseph's progress? Since Wieters is expected to emerge in the major leagues soon, should the Orioles consider a position switch for Joseph as soon as possible? Is it better to let Joseph continue working as a catcher with the hope that he succeeds, which would give the organization a surplus at another position?

Let me hear your answers to the above questions, as well as any other predictions you have about Joseph's future in the organization.

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Check out previous installments of "Predict the future" by clicking on the links below:

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