Spring training wouldn’t feel right unless the media had camp competitions to chronicle on a daily basis. Fifth starter, last bullpen and bench spots, backup catcher. It allows us to obsess over guys like Chad Moeller, Luis Exposito, Zack Phillips, Ryan Drese, Alex Gonzalez, Jimmy Paredes, Travis Ishikawa, Jason Pridie, Russ Canzler, Jai Miller and Trayvon Robinson. It makes us feel foolish later when so many of them disappear and are never heard from again.
Oh heck, let’s keep going. Hayden Penn, Ryan Lavarnway, Omir Santos, Guillermo Quiroz, Chris Gomez, Rey Navarro, Ivan De Jesus, Evan Meek, Brad Hennessey, Francisco Peguero. I hung on their every word.
There wasn’t much of a debate last spring regarding the two catchers who were heading north. The Orioles signed Welington Castillo as a free agent and worried only about how quickly he could become acclimated to the pitching staff while pulled away to represent the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic. And Caleb Joseph was the heavy favorite to beat out Francisco Peña for the backup job despite some lingering agitation within the organization over his refusal to settle before going to arbitration.
Joseph lost the hearing but won what passed as a competition. No hard feelings.
One half of the catching tandem already is decided, with Joseph lined up as the starter if the Orioles don’t acquire an upgrade and the backup if they do. Too many people are making the assumption that rookie Chance Sisco is a lock for the opening day roster and that’s false.
Austin Wynns has a legitimate chance to win a job because of his defensive tools. He isn’t headed to Sarasota simply to catch bullpen sessions and take up locker space.
The Orioles really like Sisco’s bat, which is more potent than the one Wynns is swinging, and hitting from the left side works in his favor. He’ll be given every opportunity to stick with the club, but he’ll have to earn it.
With executive vice president Dan Duquette in the market for a veteran catcher, the question becomes whether this player will bring starter credentials or just be tossed into the backup mix. They wanted to re-sign Pena, but were informed at the Winter Meetings that he was headed elsewhere. Peña would have qualified for the latter category.
There are people in the organization who are curious about Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto, who reportedly wants to be traded, and think he’s worth pursuing. Realmuto would belong in the former category.
One person suggested that Realmuto and outfielder Christian Yelich, a left-handed hitter, would solve two issues hanging over the Orioles, but we’re talking about a blockbuster and the club would be hard-pressed to come up with a suitable package.
Maybe if the Marlins were willing to add a couple of young, controllable starting pitchers and would take Manny Machado ... Sorry, I got distracted for a minute.
(Meanwhile, in case you missed the latest non-update updates that are circulating, the Orioles continue to take calls on Machado but haven’t gotten a suitable offer because they want two young, controllable starting pitchers. Tell your friends.)
* Catcher Stuart Levy was a consideration for next week’s minicamp in Sarasota - someone has to squat behind the plate for all of those pitchers - but I’m told that he’s recovering from ankle surgery that included the insertion of a plate and ligament repair. He’s expected to be ready by the middle of February.
Levy, 25, attended last year’s minicamp. He appeared in a combined 72 games with Single-A Delmarva and Frederick and batted a combined .244/.328/.333.
The Orioles selected Levy in the 27th round of the 2015 draft out of Arkansas State. He was signed by manager Buck Showalter’s son, Nathan, a scout in the organization.
As the story goes, Nathan was checking on another player and Levy caught his eye with his defensive skills and hustle, including how quickly he got up the line to back up throws. And I continue to hear good things about him when the discussion turns to the catching depth in the system.
* Pitcher Branden Kline also attended minicamp in 2017, but I haven’t heard him mentioned for next week’s gathering.
Kline, 26, underwent an arthroscopic procedure in September to clean out his right elbow. He’s started a throwing program and the Orioles hope he’s ready by spring training.
The former second-round pick out of the University of Virginia had Tommy John surgery in October 2015 and underwent a follow-up arthroscopic procedure in March 2017. He hasn’t pitched since making eight starts for Bowie in 2015 and going 3-3 with a 3.66 ERA and 1.37 WHIP in 39 1/3 innings.
* I wrote last month that the Orioles need a new hitting coach at Triple-A Norfolk after Sean Berry accepted a job as the Marlins’ minor league hitting coordinator. The job remains open as we enter a new year.
There are a few in-house candidates that the Orioles are considering, but they’re not too far along in the process. They might bump up Double-A Bowie coach Butch Davis, who returned to the organization last year, but that would create another vacancy.
Former Orioles outfielder Nolan Reimold also has entered the discussion, but he’s hoping to play in 2018 after changing agents. He turned down an offer last year to coach at short-season Single-A Aberdeen.
Reimold probably would have to begin his coaching career at a lower level than Triple-A.
* The tour of the Orioles’ farm system doesn’t make many stops in the Dominican Summer League. We tend to stop at the Gulf Coast League and its roster stocked with draft picks.
The talent in the Dominican includes right-hander Leonardo Rodriguez, a native of Boca Chica who’s creating a bit of a buzz in the organization. A scout has suggested that officials check him out.
Rodriguez, who’s listed at 6-foot-7 and 215 pounds, registered a 2.49 ERA and 1.05 WHIP in 11 starts. He surrendered only one home run, walked 13 batters and struck out 50 over 50 2/3 innings. He also hit eight batters.
Opponents batted .219 against him. Right-handers posted a .183 average.
Rodriguez turned in five straight quality starts from June 15-July 10, allowing only four earned runs in 27 innings. He was chosen to the league’s midseason All-Star team.
Rodriguez continued his throwing in the fall instructional league.
Shameless plug alert: I’m joining Sara Perlman again today for “MASN All Access.” Approximate start time of 3:30 p.m.
Got any questions?