Sarasota, Fla. — Orioles catcher Austin Wynns is often juxtaposed, as a defense-first catcher fighting for a roster spot, against his counterpart with the sweet swing, Chance Sisco.
If broad strokes are required, that's fair, but Wynns' offensive calling card is actually what the Orioles need. The 27-year-old catcher has been honing his ability to work the count and get on base since the club made him a 10th-round draft pick in 2013, and is showing as much in his first major league spring training on the 40-man roster.
Wynns has a .429 on-base percentage this spring despite collecting just two hits in 10 at-bats, continuing a person trend that's been going on for several seasons. He was second among full-season minor leaguers in the Orioles' organization with a .377 on-base percentage for Double-A Bowie last season, and in 50 plate appearances in the Dominican Winter League, he posted a .360 OBP.
Like many prospective big leaguers, Wynns was one of the offensive producers who was depended on at one point in his career. But perspective — and all those winters in the Dominican — have taught him his role is to set the table.
"It's definitely been learned — just through the years of being in the Dominican, being here as well — figuring out what type of person I am: get on base for the big guys to do their job and get me in," Wynns said. "Over the years, I developed that, just good plate discipline. A good person to actually watch through the minors is Sisco. It was Sisco, because he's a stud hitter, but I want to say just through the years I've developed it and learned."
While pitchers are better around the strike zone in the major leagues than the minors or in winter ball, Wynns' eye seems to have carried into major league camp. His four walks in 14 plate appearances are tied for most on the team with three players — Cedric Mullins, Joey Rickard and Alex Presley — who have all been to the plate twice as often.
For an Orioles team that has been starved of on-base ability in recent years, his mentality could be the right one.
"The saying is, ‘Don't try to do too much, or don't try to be someone you're not — just be who you are,’ " Wynns said. "I get on base. That's my job, to get on base. I let the big guys do their job, and if I run into one, I run into one. So what? The goal is to get on base, score runs, win the game. Win the day."
His defensive abilities, which are highlighted by a deep trust of his pitchers and the ability to manage a game, seem to contribute to that. He's charged with reading swings and situations behind the plate, and likes that to carry over into the batter's box as well. It determines his approach and swing plan from pitch to pitch, let alone at-bat to at-bat, and goes a long way toward explaining how he hit a career-best .281 with a .796 OPS and 10 home runs last year for Bowie.
"That's just feeling for the game — the game dictates what you do in your at-bat, how the person gets on base and whether they're in scoring position, different counts, hitting behind in the count," Wynns said. "It all depends. You read the game, read the scoreboard, and that dictates what you do in that situation."