Orioles catcher Chance Sisco talks about making it to the major league roster. (Eduardo A. Encina, Baltimore Sun video)
SARASOTA, FLA. — Chance Sisco, the Orioles’ touted prospect who has long been considered the club’s catcher of the future, will open this season on the major league roster.
Sisco made the club as the team’s second catcher Friday after Andrew Susac was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk before the Orioles’ Grapefruit League game against a Tampa Bay Rays split-squad. He will play behind veteran Caleb Joseph, who will enter the season as the starter.
The 23-year-old made his major league debut late last season when rosters expanded in September, but some had Sisco ticketed to open the season at Norfolk so he could play more regularly while honing his skills as a backstop. The early-spring emergence of Austin Wynns as a major league backup candidate also complicated matters.
But few Orioles have had a better spring offensively than Sisco, who is batting .419/.471/.839 in 17 games with eight extra-base hits (five doubles, one triple and two homers) and 10 RBIs.
“We think he’s got a chance to be an everyday guy and that will evolve in itself just by normal attrition,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “It’s one thing at a time. You all know from the past that we’re not going to let guys sit around here for a long period of time. We’re going to play them. He’s not going to sit around. Makes Caleb [Joseph] better, too.”
While Showalter’s mantra has always been that catching roster spots are won with what a player can do on defense – handling pitchers, blocking balls and controlling the running game – there’s no question that Sisco’s left-handed bat will likely make the Orioles a better offensive club.
Sisco, who just began catching his senior year of high school before the Orioles made him their second-round draft pick in 2013, also showed that he had made strides behind the plate, but he made a pair of throwing miscues in the field in Thursday’s game against the Boston Red Sox. Sisco, who threw out 23 percent of base stealers last season at Triple-A and was 0-for-5 in his September major league stint, threw out one of seven potential base stealers during the spring.
"Overall, I think it's gone really well,” Sisco said after Thursday’s game. “I've done what I've had to do behind the plate, and then what I've had to do at the plate," Sisco said. "I haven't had as many opportunities throwing with runners trying to run as I would like, but at the same time, on the attempts that I have had, I've been happy with the throws I've made. I had one where I dropped the transfer, but other than that, the throws have been on line and pretty quick. So I've been happy with those."
It is uncertain how Joseph and Sisco will share the catching duties, but there was always concern about what would be best for Sisco’s development — a major league backup role or playing more regularly in the minors.
“That’s going to be up to him,” Showalter said when asked about Sisco’s playing time. “He’ll control it depending on how he does, but we are challenged for left-handed bats right now. Having him there, you get certain guys that are really big splits, you’d be more inclined ... But we’re not going to take him unless we feel comfortable with him catching and having all our pitchers throw to him. That part of it has been good and it’s time for him to learn the league more than he has.”
Susac, whose spring was slowed by a staph infection that kept him out of games for most of the first week, was 6-for-13 in 14 Grapefruit League games. He also threw out one of four potential base stealers.
“Andrew’s got a track record, too,” Showalter said. “He’s been challenged some staying on the field and he’s been good here other than that infection he had earlier, so I think once we get our arms around where he is ... It’s just a short look, all things considered, but I want him to get some reps and catch nine innings and have a better feel if what we’re seeing here is reality.”
The Orioles also optioned infielder Éngelb Vielma to Triple-A. Vielma arrived at camp late because of visa problems coming in from his native Venezuela, and impressed Showalter with his defense, but he hit just .154 this spring.
The move to option Vielma leaves nonroster players Danny Valencia and Luis Sardiñas as the remaining players competing for the team’s utility spot.
The move trims the team’s spring training roster to 35, though three players will open the season on the disabled list (Zach Britton, Mark Trumbo and Gabriel Ynoa) and newcomer Alex Cobb will likely be optioned to the minors to prepare for the season after signing with the team earlier this week.