A look at a catcher trending up with the Orioles

He is not currently on the Orioles’ 40-man roster, although it seems likely he will be before the 2019 Rule 5 draft. The Orioles might add a catcher to their 40-man roster to avoid him possibly being taken in the Rule 5 draft. They got him in that draft just last year - in the minor league phase of the Rule 5.

Credit to the Orioles for adding catcher Martin Cervenka last December in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 from the San Francisco Giants. From the Czech Republic, Cervenka was originally signed in January 2009 by Cleveland and he spent seven seasons playing for the Indians. San Francisco signed him last November as a minor league free agent, then lost him weeks later to the Orioles.

Now, after one impressive first season in the Baltimore organization, he could wind up competing for a roster spot on the Orioles during the 2019 season.

Cervenka, who turned 26 in August, has two tools that stand out - arm strength and some pop in his bat. His pop time to second base, according to scouts, ranges from 1.85 to 1.93 seconds. That time would be quicker than times posted by Caleb Joseph, Austin Wynns and Chance Sisco.

Double-A Bowie hitting coach Keith Bodie watched Cervenka play at Lynchburg in the Single-A Carolina League in 2017 and provided a strong recommendation to the organization to look at Cervenka. When he was available last December, the Orioles pounced.

Bats-Lined-Up-Sidebar.jpgThis past season for Bowie, Cervenka hit .258/.317/.457 with 22 doubles, 15 homers and 60 RBIs. He was an Eastern League All-Star and his bat really took off in July, when he hit .364/.436/.758 with seven homers and 25 RBIs. For that, he was named the Orioles’ Minor League Player of the Month and also the Eastern League Player of the Month.

The Orioles sent the 6-foot-4, 225-lb. Cervenka to the Arizona Fall League, where he is batting .211 in 10 games for Glendale. But he’s hit better after going 1-for-16 in his first five games. Over his past five games - including an 0-for-2 Friday - he is 7-for-22 (.318) with a four-hit game, three doubles and seven RBIs.

Cervenka has a fan in Gary Kendall, his manager last season at Bowie.

“His biggest strength is his arm strength,” said Kendall. “He’s got a day in and day out with an above average arm. He’s got good carry on the ball and was accurate. Defensively, he blocks the ball well and shifts well. He moves like a guy much smaller. He’s got a Carlton Fisk-type body, but he moves around well and is very quiet back there.

“One of the things he needs to work on is sometimes the dropping of pitches. He just needs to clean that up. Sometimes there are borderline pitches that maybe you can get with a catch. But overall, his defensive skills are good and he’s very coachable and very durable.”

When given a chance, Cervenka could throw out runners. He got 40 percent of would-be stealers in 2017 and 29.2 percent with Bowie.

“There were times we would play a team like New Hampshire, a base-stealing team, and he would throw a couple of guys out and the rest of the series they didn’t run,” Kendall said. “And that could get better in the majors if he gets the chance to catch guys that are consistently both quick to the plate and around the plate more. Caleb was a better receiver at the major league level, because pitchers are around the plate more.”

Kendall was also encouraged by Cervenka’s offense. He set career highs in homers, RBIs and slugging in 2018.

“On offense, I think he’s got a chance to be a pretty good hitter,” Kendall said. “I don’t know if he’ll be a high average hitter, but I think he’s going to have power. Maybe he would give you .250 or so with maybe the teens in homers. He’s got good carry and backspins the ball well. He can hit the ball out to left- and right-center. It’s not just pull power.

“What he did this year was solid on a really good stage. He got a chance to catch 100 games. He caught some good pitching and guys liked throwing to him, and I thought the Eastern League had really good pitching this year and he had some really good at-bats. He’s a little older, but there is still upside here. Caleb Joseph and Austin Wynns were both in the minors a while and older before they got their chances. This kid has tools that can help a big league club.”

And even though Cervenka is from the Czech Republic, he has absolutely no issues communicating with his pitchers.

“None. He’s very bright and speaks several languages,” Kendall said. “He is a very good baseball historian. He is really into both Oriole baseball and baseball in general. He signed at a young age and the Indians took him from the Czech Republic and he played a couple of seasons in Australia. This is a very interesting guy.”

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