With the Orioles kicking off spring training next week in Sarasota, Florida, an uneventful offseason for the rebuilding club will at least begin to be about baseball again.
Their rebuilding project, which yielded 108 losses and a handful of memorable moments in 2019, continues with what’s expected to be a similar 2020 season. But as they wait for the fruits of their focus on player development to make it to the majors, there are plenty of opportunities to impress for the players in big league camp.
Each day this week, we’ll break down a position group that will get a chance to prove itself to executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias, manager Brandon Hyde and the rest of the front office and coaching staff when spring training begins, with the first workout for pitchers and catchers next Wednesday.
First is the catcher’s group, where all the focus will be on a certain top prospect while the rest of the players try and actually make the team.
Who’s in camp?
Hyde will have seven catchers in major league camp, including three on the 40-man roster. Pedro Severino, Chance Sisco and Austin Wynns are on the roster, while the nonroster invitee list includes top prospect Adley Rutschman, veterans Bryan Holaday and Taylor Davis and Czech farmhand Martin Cervenka.
The Orioles had a pair of veteran catchers in camp last year in Jesús Sucre and Carlos Perez, with Sucre making the team out of spring training but only lasting a few weeks before being banished to the minors.
Perez, however, was credited with being a great presence behind the plate at Double-A Bowie, where the Baysox made the playoffs and the experience Perez provided behind the plate was a big asset for a young pitching staff. Both left in free agency this fall.
Who’s making the team?
Severino, who joined the Orioles as a waiver claim the last week of spring training last year, became their primary catcher pretty quickly and was nearly an average offensive catcher while batting .249/.321/.420 with 13 home runs in his first full major league season after being a backup with the Washington Nationals.
When Elias would recount the individual success stories of 2019, he’d usually include Severino with the likes of Trey Mancini, Hanser Alberto and John Means. That suggests he’s probably safe in his spot, provided he’s healthy.
As for the backup spot, it will be one of the bigger points of focus in camp to see whether Sisco is able to find the fruits of his offseason swing work to become the offensive presence he was expected to be when he was the organization’s top prospect. His defensive work continues to be a point of emphasis, and it will be hard to judge Sisco’s new offensive prowess considering he had a great spring last year but didn’t make the team and struggled during the season.
Either way, Sisco and Wynns have a leg up on the nonroster crew by virtue of already being on the roster. It would be tidy platoon-wise to have Severino and Sisco back together as the team’s two catchers.
Who could change that?
Sucre made the team last year as a nonroster invitee, and the same could happen with Holaday if the team is looking for the kind of experience he brings when camp breaks.
Holaday, 32, spent the past two seasons with the Miami Marlins and has continued to stick around on major league rosters by virtue of what he does behind the plate. That could be a benefit to what will be a young Orioles pitching staff.
If Holaday doesn’t force the issue, perhaps Davis can. Hyde and major league field coordinator Tim Cossins will be plenty familiar with him from their time with the Chicago Cubs, and it’s unlikely they would have brought him into the fold with the Orioles if David didn’t provide exactly what they’re going to be looking for.
There’s also the possibility that someone like Severino could shake off another team’s roster and end up being a factor for the Orioles as camp winds down.
Who’s the future?
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Rutschman will be in camp to get familiar with the setting and spend some time around the major league players and coaches before he’s sent across town to minor league camp, but he’ll be a permanent fixture with the Orioles before long.
The reigning No. 1 overall draft pick and the Orioles’ top prospect will use major league camp as a launching pad to his first full professional season, one that the Orioles hope will be a productive one as he charges toward the majors. It’s too early this year, but he might be competing for a roster spot — or at least to prove he’ll be a midseason option — next spring training.
Outside of Rutschman, the catching position isn’t a terribly strong one in the Orioles’ farm system. Cervenka and Brett Cumberland are high-minors depth at this point, while Rutschman’s draft class also included Maverick Handley and Jordan Cannon in the top 10 rounds, providing an infusion of talent to supplement a thin position.
Feb. 11: Pitchers and catchers report in Sarasota, Florida
Feb. 16: Position players report
Feb. 17: First full-squad workout
Feb. 22: First spring training game, vs. Atlanta Braves in North Port, Florida