Even after big year, Caleb Joseph heads to Venezuela for more work

Orioles minor league catcher Caleb Joseph had a big year for the Double-A Bowie Baysox in 2013. But instead of taking a few weeks off after a solid year, he headed to Venezuela to play winter ball.

Playing for the Bravos de Margarita will help him improve as a player. That, in turn, will help him improve his stock in the organization and maybe even enhance his chance to get added to the O's 40-man roster in advance of December's Rule 5 draft.

Even though he has played six seasons since the O's drafted him in round seven in 2008, he will not be a minor league free agent until after the 2014 season.

Did the O's brass urge Joseph to play winter ball?

"It was a joint decision, maybe a little more of Caleb's idea and from his perspective any experience he can get against a high level of competition would be beneficial and he's right. It's a high level of competition there and that will help him," O's director of player development Brian Graham said.

"The fact that he is down there in Venezuela shows a serious commitment. It shows us how badly he wants to be a baseball player."

The 27-year-old Joseph took his game to another level in 2013. For Bowie, he hit .299 with 31 doubles, 22 homers and 97 RBIs along with a .494 slugging percentage and .840 OPS. He led all O's minor leaguers in RBIs, and finished first in the Eastern League in total bases, and second in hits and RBIs. He was fourth in average, homers and extra-base hits.

Fans have often asked me where he stands in the organization. Could he possibly be a candidate to compete for the O's backup catching job next season? Will he ever even get an extended chance to play at Triple-A?

"The bottom line is Caleb has gotten better and improved," Graham said. "That is what is going to help us make decisions. He received better (when catching) this year, he blocked better this year and he threw better. His footwork, release and accuracy are better. Offensively, as a hitter, he had a great year."

So has Joseph's catching improved enough that he could play there at the big league level?

"At the end of the season this year, when I sat down and evaluated him, he improved defensively," Graham said. "Certainly, you have to consider him as an option with the Orioles because he has improved defensively. That was our concern from a player development standpoint and his defense has gotten better."

Joseph is 5-for-16 in Venezuela with two doubles and two RBIs. He actually has not played there since Oct. 13, but it was not due to any injury. It had to do with replacing a player on the club's roster and Margarita needed a roster spot since there is a limit of the number of American players the team can carry. Joseph was put on the 14-day inactive list, but will return to play there soon and remains in the country working out until he gets activated.

Joseph's play this year certainly helped him improve his standing within the organization. Now he has taken his game to the tough Venezuelan winter league to try and take that another step further.

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