When Matt Wieters was lost to a season-ending elbow injury in the second week of May this year, it appeared to be a crushing blow for the Orioles, who had relied heavily upon the skilful catcher both with the bat and behind the plate for the previous five seasons.
A three-time All-Star, Wieters was a fan favorite in Baltimore and had started 2014 on a tear, hitting .308/.339/.839 with five home runs and 18 RBIs in just 26 games. His injury dampened the spirits of Birdland and there was a genuine concern as to who would carry the load for the remainder of the season. Steve Clevenger was the backup catcher on the Orioles roster, but he had played just 83 games in the major leagues and it was a daunting role for someone of such limited experience.
In previous seasons, the Orioles had called upon the likes of Taylor Teagarden, Chris Snyder, Ronny Paulino and Luis Exposito to perform backup duties to Wieters, and for the most part, had enjoyed somewhat moderate levels of success. With those four now pursuing careers elsewhere, 28-year-old rookie Caleb Joseph received a call-up from Triple-A Norfolk after seven seasons and 639 games in the minor leagues.
Joseph had started 2014 solidly, hitting .261/.284/.686 with two home runs and 11 RBIs in 22 games for the Tides. This followed a career year in 2013 when he hit .299/.346/.840 with 22 home runs and 97 RBIs at Double-A Bowie. During 2013, Joseph played his 400th game for the Baysox and he commemorated the feat with an inspiring tweet:
It takes a little more persistence to get up and go the distance/ I'm not giving in/ I'm not giving up on implausible dreams! #Rush #400— Caleb Joseph (@McGrattan17) August 3, 2013
Little did he know that just nine months later, his persistence would pay off and that dream would come true.
Joseph struggled in his first few weeks in the majors and when the Orioles traded for another catcher, Nick Hundley of the Padres, on May 24, Joseph was hitting just .050 (1-for-20). Clevenger on the other hand had performed solidly with the bat through 26 appearances, hitting .240/.296/.670 with eight RBIs. However, behind the plate, he had thrown out just 15 percent of basestealers, which was well below Wieters’ career mark of 33 percent.
It was widely reported that Joseph had a strong defensive element to his game. That claim was backed up by the impressive figure of 49 percent of basestealers being thrown out by Joseph in the minors. In addition to that, Joseph possessed a respectable line of .286/.327/.753 in the minors, having also hit 74 home runs and 349 RBIs. Offensively and defensively, the numbers were impressive, but would Buck Showalter stick with Joseph given the new addition of Hundley?
To the initial surprise of many, Showalter did stick with Joseph and Clevenger was somewhat unlucky to be sent back down to Norfolk. The pressure on Joseph was now off and he was free to play his natural game, knowing that he had the trust of his manager and an extended amount of time to prove himself at the highest level.
Now, some 2 1/2 months later, Joseph has turned himself into one of the Orioles’ most important players. Through 55 games, he owns a rapidly improving offensive line of .228/.285/.711. He has hit eight home runs and has knocked in 21 runs. This offensive surge reached its crescendo on Saturday evening when he became the first Orioles catcher in history to hit a home run in five consecutive games. Furthermore, it was just the 15th time in MLB history that a catcher had achieved such a rare feat.
His impressive offensive capability complements his defense perfectly - in fact, his defensive capabilities are arguably even stronger. Since joining the Orioles, Joseph has thrown out 46 percent of basestealers, a figure which comfortably exceeds Wieters’ carer mark. The popular cry of “Don’t. Run. Ever.” was created by Orioles fans in appreciation of Wieters’ strong arm. It is now being heard each time Joseph nails a runner with a bullet to second base.
This sign of respect from Orioles fans highlights just how popular Joseph has become in Baltimore and his story - one of hard work, persistence, patience and reward - is starting to make its way across the land, providing hope to all athletes chasing their dreams.
Daniel Clark blogs about the Orioles at The Big Leagues Daily from Melbourne, Australia. Follow him on Twitter: @DC_TBLDaily. His thoughts on the O’s appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s continuing commitment to welcome guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.