How could Orioles’ catching changes impact 2022?

Yesterday’s news that Chance Sisco had been designated for assignment provided the latest jolt to the catching position at Triple-A Norfolk and naturally led to questions regarding Adley Rutschman.

They moves aren’t related. But isn’t it fun to wonder?

Rutschman has played 38 games beyond the low Single-A level and figures to stick around Double-A Bowie for at least a little while longer, no matter how good he looks and how excited fans are to watch him progress through the system.

The Orioles needed a 40-man roster spot for Thomas Eshelman to join the team and make last night’s start while left-hander Bruce Zimmermann headed to the injured list with biceps tendinitis. Zac Lowther could have be recalled, since his scheduled turn with Norfolk fell last night, but maybe the club is done putting him on the shuttle until later in the summer.

Eshelman can make a start or two or however many, and perhaps be designated for assignment if no longer needed. He’s done the dance. Clear waivers, accept the outright assignment and wait for the next opportunity.

The Tides are turning from their original catching alignment, when they had Austin Wynns, Brett Cumberland, Taylor Davis and Nick Ciuffo - the latter making it a more manageable, though unintentionally, by fracturing his right hand in April on a hit-by-pitch.

Wynns is in Baltimore. Davis was traded to the Pirates earlier this week for low-minors outfielder José Berroa. And Sisco, who swapped places with Wynns, is in limbo and a possible waiver claim.

What does any of this mean for 2022?

Sisco has been inching closer to the edge of his Orioles career with his ongoing struggles at the plate and defense that never settled at average.

MLBPipeline.com ranked Sisco as the organization’s No. 1 prospect in 2017, followed by Austin Hays, Ryan Mountcastle, DL Hall, Cedric Mullins, Tanner Scott, Hunter Harvey, Keegan Akin, Anthony Santander and Adam Hall in the Top 10. Baseball America also placed him first and ranked him among its top 70 prospects in 2017 and 2018.

The former second-round pick never met those expectations, providing only a few encouraging bursts - including 2019 spring training with a .382/.533/.765 line, four home runs and 11 RBIs in 15 games, and 2018 spring training with a .429/.474/.800 line with eight extra-base hits and 10 RBIs in 18 games.

Sisco-Ball-at-Plate-sidebar.jpgThe chances of Sisco backing up Rutschman in 2022, so to speak, were fading fast. Reaching arbitration status and running out of minor league options also reduced the odds.

As it turned out, 2021 was the make-or-break season for Sisco and he batted .154/.247/.185 in 73 plate appearances with the Orioles and was 9-for-44 (.205) with Norfolk.

The sense from some people within the industry is that a team will claim Sisco because he’s a left-handed-hitting catcher and former top prospect. Maybe he’s a change-of-scenery guy.

Pedro Severino was behind the plate Friday after Wynns started three of the last four games. He avoided arbitration over the winter by agreeing to a $1.825 million deal and, the way baseball works, is due another raise.

A non-tender seems likely if Severino remains with the club through the season. That’s certainly too much for a backup catcher and Severino isn’t performing at a level that presses for a long-term relationship.

Now we’re back to Wynns, who didn’t play in the majors in 2020 but lived on the taxi squad. He started three of four games and four of six before returning to the bench last night. He’s an upgrade defensively and the Orioles love how he works with the pitchers.

Funny how the sport works sometimes. Wynns couldn’t buy a promotion last summer and probably wished that he’d get a shot somewhere else, but the Orioles didn’t want to hurt their catching depth and held onto him. Now he’s got to be in the backup discussion whenever Rutschman arrives.

Cumberland remains a defensive work in progress. The Orioles like the power he can supply, but he isn’t ready for the majors. It’s going to be interesting to watch how he develops and what happens to him.

A veteran catcher could be signed over the winter. It seems to happen on a yearly basis, though Ciuffo has appeared in only 19 major league games, none in 2020.

Someone should be tasked with serving as a mentor to Rutschman.

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