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Orioles spring training roster preview: Chance Sisco's progress the focus at thin catcher position

As the Orioles begin spring training next week in Sarasota and with it the next chapter of the franchise's rebuild under the leadership of executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias and manager Brandon Hyde, the focus will finally shift from the front office to the field.

Without a major league free agent signing and with many of the familiar faces of past years no longer with the Orioles, the cast of players who will be charged with starting the organization's transformation on the field is a unique one.

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This week, we'll break down by position groups who will be in camp, and who could factor in to the team's immediate plans, starting with the catcher position.

Who's at camp?

Chance Sisco and Austin Wynns are the two catchers on the 40-man roster, while Andrew Susac received a camp invite despite being designated for assignment off the roster this offseason.

Carlos Pérez and Jesús Sucre were brought in as veteran free agents on minor league deals with camp invites, and Martin Cervenka was rewarded for his strong year at Double-A Bowie with an invite, too.

Who's gone?

Caleb Joseph wasn't tendered a contract in November due to his expected arbitration salary, and hasn't signed anywhere for 2019 as of Monday.

Who are the frontrunners to make the team?

Sisco, who was the organization's top prospect entering the 2017 season according to Baseball America, had a completely lost 2018 season that featured two demotions to the minors and no impact in the majors or minors from his bat, which is his carrying tool. Wynns spent most of 2018 in the majors and came along well behind the plate in the eyes of some of the team's veteran pitchers, but doesn't have the offensive upside.

Ideally, the Orioles will see enough improvement from Sisco to bring him north for Opening Day yet again, and go forward with Sisco and Wynns as their catchers. Though there wasn't the expected benefit of having Sisco in the daily company of former bench coach John Russell last season, the presence of former catcher Hyde and major league field coordinator/catching instructor Tim Cossins and a different approach might be enough to help overcome some of Sisco's defensive deficiencies.

Then again, as a player who developed a reputation in the minors of bringing his at-bats — good or bad — with him behind the plate, it might be as simple as Sisco's bat coming around and helping his defense play up, too. He's a smart player who mentioned at FanFest that he learned how to develop a major league routine last year, and this year's routine will feature a lot more information for players to digest. Perhaps all that can lead to the Orioles' one-time catcher of the future to establish himself as that.

What about the rest of them?

In Sucre, formerly of the Tampa Bay Rays, and Pérez, most recently of the Texas Rangers, the Orioles have a pair of veteran catchers as insurance policies against Sisco. Neither is much of an offensive threat — Sucre is a career .233 hitter and Pérez has a lifetime .216 average — and neither rated particularly well in publicly available catching metrics last season.

Whether the mythical value of a veteran catcher exists to begin with, or applies to players who have played 216 and 223 major league games apiece, depends on the beholder. But considering the Orioles' catching spot is thin, the baseline value is that they'll not be out of place in a major league spring training.

Susac, who will turn 29 during spring training, impressed at Triple-A Norfolk last year, then got hurt, and was called up to the majors for an uninspiring stint there before he could find his swing again.

Cervenka, 26, was a minor league Rule 5 pick who hit 15 home runs at Double-A Bowie last year and was considered to be added to the 40-man roster this offseason by the previous regime. He's someone who could develop into a backup catcher according to some evaluators outside the organization, but any notion that he could figure into break-camp plans seems far-fetched. It will still be a valuable experience for him, and he could impress the new regime as he did the old.

What's worth watching this spring?

All eyes will be on Sisco this spring when it comes to the catcher position, and fair or not, his development will be an early evaluation marker for the new coaching staff, too. He and Wynns will likely be eager to impress, and considering how young the pitching staff will be, the fact that they can all learn a new way of doing business together could be beneficial.

It's sorting out what Plan B may be that's complicated. Wynns' presence in all of this is kind of taken for granted, and he's steady enough that you'd assume he would have a strong spring, but both he and Sisco have minor league options. It's possible that even if Sisco doesn't have the best spring, the coaching staff could opt to keep him around and have him learn on the job. In a scenario like that where one of the free agents also plays his way onto the team, Wynns could be the odd man out.

There aren't many exciting hypotheticals, though, save for the one the Orioles will be hoping for: that an offseason away from the worst year of Sisco's baseball career brought the perspective necessary for him to take the next step at and behind the plate, and in the process give Orioles fans a daily look at a part of their future once camp breaks.

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