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Orioles’ fluid catching situation yields little in way of answers in 2019

Nothing could have given more of an indication that the Orioles’ catching position would be in flux this year than the act of claiming Pedro Severino off waivers on the final weekend of spring training, giving cover for sending Chance Sisco to the minors and keeping the position fluid all year.

The season that followed provided much less clarity about the position, like so many other spots on their roster, than one would hope — and that might have been the point.

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While Sisco had a great spring, he was one of several players who was expected to start with the major league club and didn’t. Jesús Sucre was a late arrival in camp but quickly established himself as a front-runner to be on the team, and he broke camp with Severino just a few days after Severino came over from the Washington Nationals.

With Austin Wynns on the injured list with an oblique injury early, the two catchers who spent most of 2018 with the Orioles and were viewed as part of the catching future were out of the major league picture early.

But Sucre, despite his abilities behind the plate, proved not to be a fit for a rebuilding team and didn’t last through April. First, Wynns came up, but that was when Severino was productive both at the plate and in the field.

Severino also caught nine of 17 would-be base stealers through June 4, and his OPS was up to .937 with a three-homer game that day in Texas. That, however, was when Sisco joined the team after tearing up Triple-A for a month. He took Wynns’ place on the roster and the title of most productive catcher on the roster from Severino.

Sisco hit .270 with six home runs and a 1.022 OPS in his first 20 games, but that would be the peak for both of those numbers the rest of the way. By season’s end, he hit .210 with a .729 OPS and eight home runs.

Both Sisco and Severino were close to league-average offensively, but as a group, the Orioles’ catchers’ weighted runs created plus (wRC+) — which takes into account outside factors such as stadium dimensions — of 82 was tied for 21st in baseball this year. Their overall minus-0.2 wins above replacement (WAR) at the position was 24th in baseball. They caught 23.3% of base-stealers as a group, and the league average was 26.7%.

It wasn’t meant to be a group that was fully formed this year, and save for another waiver claim or small acquisition, it won’t likely be one that changes too drastically this offseason. Severino was on the list of players that executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias and manager Brandon Hyde often rattled off as a bright spot this year.

Sisco has some swing adjustments to make that the team recommended, but his work behind the plate with major league catching coordinator Tim Cossins was often praised. Wynns settled into the third catcher’s role and waited his turn in September and remains a good depth piece. There wasn’t much knocking on the door in the minors behind them.

At some point soon, everyone will be looking at where top pick and top prospect Adley Rutschman is on the farm, and how quickly he can be the catching solution he’s projected to be. That, however, is at least a year away.

For now, the Orioles will hope for improvement from a group that simultaneously showed it and needs more of it in 2020 and beyond.

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