It is interesting to note the position of Pedro Severino’s locker along “Catcher’s Row” in the Orioles’ spring training clubhouse.
He dresses two lockers to the right of Chance Sisco, who occupies the space once reserved for four-time All-Star Matt Wieters, and three lockers to the left of 2019 top overall draft choice Adley Rutschman, who will be grouped with the nonroster catchers until he is reassigned to minor league camp.
Severino can look to his left and see the guy who was at the top of the catching depth chart when he joined the Orioles last year, and look to his right and see the young man who is expected to be there when the Orioles rebuilding project eventually blooms.
Severino knows the score. Even though he got most of the major league playing time behind the plate last season and might again this year, he’s well aware that, no matter how well he plays, he probably won’t be in the picture when, and if, the Orioles turn a competitive corner in the next few years.
Rutschman has gotten so much attention, Severino isn’t even sure that the best college player of 2019 won’t be in the major league lineup before the end of this season, though Rutschman is almost certainly headed for High-A Frederick and at least one full year in the minors.
“You never know," Severino said. “This is baseball. Maybe he gets called up in June, July, May … whatever. His talent is coming out really fast. He could come up because he’s the future of the team, like Sisco, too. These two guys are going to be together on the team.”
He says that in a tone that suggests he doesn’t consider it a bad thing. He’s here, after all, because this early stage of the rebuilding program required an experienced catcher. And that role was a big upgrade from the limited opportunity he got before he was claimed off waivers from the Washington Nationals, sharing time with an injured Wieters and prospect Spencer Kieboom in 2018 during the only other significant stretch he spent in the majors.
“The only thing you can control is when you pass the white line,’’ he said. "He [Rutschman] is a young guy with a lot of talent. Catcher of the future. I’ll be here until they tell me when it is the last day to be here. The only thing you can control is when you cross the white line and do your job.”
For the moment, at least, the competition for playing time this season will likely be between Severino and Sisco, with Sisco the preferred option if he is able to put into action some of the offensive adjustments that have been prescribed for him by the team.
That was the case last year, but Severino emerged as the superior hitter and played in 96 games, batting .249 with 13 homers and 44 RBIs in 305 at-bats. Manager Brandon Hyde said recently that Severino could end up being in the lineup as much this year as he was in 2019.
“I see Severino as a guy that’s going to get a lot of playing time and a lot of innings behind the plate,” Hyde said. “Whether he’s starting Opening Day or not, I haven’t decided that, but that guy’s going to get a lot of starts this year.”
That’s all he can really ask for in this situation — a chance to show again that he can be a dependable big league catcher in case he ends up back on the waiver wire that brought him to Baltimore just days before the start of the regular season last spring.
“My [agent] says, you don’t play for one team, you also play for the 29 other teams,” Severino said. “If something happens, I think somebody will take you because everybody is watching when you play. So, when they give me the opportunity, I’ll show everybody I can play in the big leagues and I will get more chances.”
Perhaps he is being too fatalistic. He’s 26, only 19 months older that Chance Sisco and years younger than third catcher Austin Wynns (29) and recently signed veteran Bryan Holaday (32), but projects as a veteran because he got some real playing time in Washington, where he got an on-the-job education catching three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer and three-time All-Star Stephen Strasburg.
“They helped me a lot,” Severino said. "I didn’t have to do much. I just followed them, because they were the veterans and they know what to do. Here, I have more of a job, because I have to be in charge, because we have a lot of young guys on the team and we have to help each other.”
That attitude extends beyond the young pitchers to Sisco and Wynns, who bounced back and forth between Baltimore and Triple-A Norfolk last year.
“It’s difficult for everybody, with everybody being up and down,” Severino said. “I tell these guys, every time you get an opportunity, just try do your best and see what happens later. Don’t think about if you’re doing good or doing bad, you might be going down. You can’t control that. You can control what you do [on the field], so just do your job.”