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Baltimore Orioles

Keeping Chance Sisco in camp a sign Orioles believe top prospect is close

SARASOTA, FLA. — When the Orioles sent catchers Francisco Pena and Audry Perez back to minor league camp Tuesday, it left top prospect Chance Sisco as the team's sole nonroster catcher behind the recently returned Welington Castillo and top backup Caleb Joseph.

The quiet Sisco doesn't put too much stock in the fact that he's the only member of that nonroster group remaining. But with manager Buck Showalter expecting to give Castillo some time off after a grueling workload in the World Baseball Classic, that Sisco is still in camp is the greatest sign yet that the team views him as a contributor sooner rather than later.

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"I don't know," Sisco said. "I hope so. I mean, I hope that I'm in a good spot to possibly get called up [this year], but that relies on me playing well and the needs of the big league team, and just going day by day.

"It does feel good to still be here, just because I get to be around longer, and your goal is to be in the big leagues. So to stay in big league camp as long as possible is a good feeling, and I'm not reading into anything.

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Since Castillo left for the WBC, Sisco has gotten the biggest share of the catching work except for Joseph, who started most of the home games. In 13 games, he has 16 at-bats with four hits and two runs scored.

He has also shown himself to be capable behind the plate in a major league setting, which is the main requirement because his lifetime minor league batting average of .323 shows he has a bat that many believe will play at the big league level.

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With a week to go in camp, and a strong likelihood that it's just Joseph and Sisco catching as Castillo gets a breather, manager Buck Showalter said it created an opportunity to see more of Sisco.

"We're not going to keep him here unless we can catch him," Showalter said. "That's what we can do now, with Welington kind of in and out and Caleb needing to continue to start. We looked at the number of innings — he's going to start over in Toronto [Sunday]. He's going to come in and catch three or four innings almost every day. He's getting as much, if not more [time], and the experience he's getting here is immeasurable. We're not going to keep him here unless it's the best thing for his development, and I think everybody is in agreement that the more time he can spend in this environment, the better off it'll be for him down the road."

Sisco is trying to keep his approach simple over the last week or so of camp.

"I'm just looking to have good at-bats, looking to be comfortable behind the plate and just get my work in to get ready for the season," he said.

Around the horn: Before Wednesday's game with the Tampa Bay Rays, the Orioles made two more cuts from major league camp. Left-hander Richard Bleier was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk, and right-hander Zach Stewart was re-assigned to minor league camp. Bleier, acquired earlier in camp from the New York Yankees, has allowed three runs on 10 hits in seven innings over five outings in the Grapefruit League. Stewart went his first 8 2/3 innings over five appearances without allowing a run before giving up three in each of his two most recent outings. The moves put the Orioles at 42 players in camp. ... Showalter said outfielder Chris Dickerson (shoulder) is available after a day of rest. ... Ryan Flaherty (shoulder) will make his return from injury on Friday against the Twins in Fort Myers.

jmeoli@baltsun.com

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