A look at minor league catching depth and a take on Jim Johnson

This may surprise you, but the position in the Orioles’ minor leagues that may currently feature the most depth is catcher. There was a time a year or two ago when we certainly could not say that. But now the Orioles may have five catchers among their best 25 or 30 prospects.

This comes after a season where two catchers - Caleb Joseph and Michael Ohlman - had big years on offense, and the club drafted three other high school catchers, all of which are already showing some promise.

Among the three high school catchers that the Orioles selected among the draft’s first six rounds last June, Chance Sisco looks the best at this point.

Taken in the second round out of a California high school, Sisco hit .371 in the Gulf Coast League. He showed a mature approach at the plate while hitting to all fields, and real promise with a solid arm behind the plate. Both Jonah Heim, taken in round 4 and Alex Murphy, drafted in round 6 out of Calvert Hall in Baltimore, made good first-year impressions.

We’ve talked here often about the big seasons Ohlman and Joseph had. Ohlman was added to the 40-man roster last week. Baltimorean Steve Clevenger, acquired in a trade in July, is also part of the club’s suddenly more solid catching depth and is on the 40-man.

This news comes as Matt Wieters now has just two years to go before free agency, amid reports that the club may not be able to sign him to a contract extension. If Wieters does walk in two years, perhaps one or more of these young catchers will be ready to take over behind the plate in Baltimore.

Some of you have expressed an interesting opinion about Jim Johnson. Some contend that a closer should not be paid $10 million, as Johnson is expected to earn in 2014, and/or that a closer should not take up that high percentage of the payroll. That has led a few posters on the blog to suggest Johnson moving to the rotation with a salary now at that level.

That is intriguing and makes some sense. But I don’t think we will see it.

I’ve long believed Johnson could move into a starting role - he was a starter in the minors - and that he has the pitches to succeed there. But even after his nine blown saves the club will likely keep him as closer. While $10 million is pricey for that role, what would it cost to find a replacement if Johnson moved to the rotation? If the club acquired a proven closer on the free agent market, or traded for one, they’d likely still have to fork out some significant dollars. Plus I contend Johnson has one of the better arms on the team and you have to keep that arm on the roster.

Some won’t agree with that, but I don’t see Johnson being non-tendered or traded. I feel his 2014 season will be closer to what we saw when he saved 94 percent in 2012. If he bounces back in that manner, the salary won’t seem out of line.

Johnson as a starter? The idea is interesting and maybe the club would even consider discussing it internally or already has. In the end, I expect to see him back pitching in the ninth inning come next April.

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