One pitcher’s take on Chance Sisco’s defense (plus O’s notes)

Throughout his career, catcher Chance Sisco has continued to move up the list of top Orioles prospects. Drafted out of a California high school in the second round in 2013, Sisco was the organization’s No. 10 prospect, according to Baseball America, at the end of the 2013 season. He moved up to No. 4 after 2014 and to No. 3 after last year.

Now Sisco seems primed to make a move for the No. 1 spot when new rankings come out this offseason.

He also is expected to be named the Brooks Robinson Orioles minor league Player of Year when the award is handed out on Saturday at Camden Yards.

chance-sisco-bats-wide.jpgAt 21, Sisco played most of this season for Double-A Bowie, but ended the year with four games at Triple-A Norfolk. Between the clubs, he hit .317/.403/.430 with 28 doubles, one triple, six homers and 51 RBIs. He ranked fourth in the Eastern League in batting average and first in OBP.

His bat is clearly solid and hitting for average is his best tool. He’s a career .323 hitter who led the South Atlantic League in batting at .340 in 2014. But there have been questions about Sisco’s defense behind the plate. The Orioles insist he continues to make solid defensive improvements and one pitcher that knows him well agrees with that assessment.

O’s left-hander Donnie Hart pitched in 40 games for Bowie this year, throwing mostly to Sisco. He’s worked with Sisco at lower levels on the farm, as well.

“He has made huge strides,” Hart said. “I can remember in Delmarva in 2014 and it was almost like you were trying to guide him out to the outer half or inner half of the plate. Then, last year, you definitely saw it when he got to Double-A and he worked with some pitchers that had played for a while and were kind of telling him things he needed to work on. He had always worked with younger players in low-A and high-A.

“Then when he went out to the (Arizona) Fall League (after last season) and that is where he really showed it. You had guys with premium velocity and plus breaking balls. Him being able to recognize when to go down and block those, and when to pick them and throw guys out. You know, from 2013 to now, he is one of the better defensive catchers I’ve thrown to.”

Hart said working with more experienced pitchers at Double-A was big for Sisco.

“When you get around older guys that have pitched for a while, they know how to pitch,” Hart said. “One of the things they’re going to want to do is throw stuff in the dirt, and know they can throw it and he can square it up and keep the ball in front of him. He got very good at that, keeping the ball in front of him, if you do want to throw that pitch.”

Hart has now worked with big league catchers with the Orioles and I asked him if Sisco’s defense has reached the point that he could hold his own at the major league level.

“Yeah, he could,” he said. “He’s getting smarter by the minute, too. He made my job a whole lot easier. He used to not want to talk to me a lot because he is a quiet kid. I would just kind of bug him and talk to him about pitching. And this year, there were very few times I had to shake (change the sign). We were on the same page the entire time. We had some really quick innings because of that.”

As for Sisco’s offense, well, that is just fine.

“He’s got that down and is one of the best hitters I’ve seen,” Hart said. “There are not a lot of times you can fool him. He’s always going to give you a good at-bat and he’ll make you throw some pitches. Hitting is his strong point and he’s really good at it.”

Notes on Lee and Crichton: Minor league left-hander Chris Lee, a member of the Orioles’ 40-man roster, was recalled and put on the major league 60-day disabled list yesterday. The move allowed the O’s to open a 40-man roster spot for infielder Paul Janish, as players that go on the 60-day DL temporarily come off the 40-man roster.

Lee has not pitched since late May due a very slow healing lat/shoulder strain. Lee saw Dr. James Andrews last week and his diagnosis concurred with the findings of Orioles doctors. Lee will not throw for at least three months, but is expected to be fine for spring training. Lee ended the 2015 season ranked as the Orioles’ No. 6 prospect, according to Baseball America. In eight games this year at Double-A Bowie, he went 5-0 with an ERA of 2.98 over 51 1/3 innings.

Also, 24-year-old right-hander Stefan Crichton is expected to be added as the Orioles’ seventh player going to the Arizona Fall League. He will join right-handed pitchers Jesus Liranzo and Jimmy Yacabonis and left-handed pitcher Tanner Scott in the AFL, along with catcher Austin Wynns, infielder Adrian Marin and outfielder DJ Stewart in playing for Peoria when the AFL season begins Oct. 11.

Crichton this year went 2-6 with a 3.73 ERA for Bowie. Over 72 1/3 innings, he gave up 73 hits with 26 walks and 61 strikeouts. Crichton was drafted in round 23 in 2013 out of TCU.

Can the Orioles bounce back yet again?: For a while last night, it looked as the Orioles could pull off a comeback win over the Rays and tie Boston for the American League East lead. But they ended the night two games back. The Orioles lost 7-6 to Tampa Bay and Boston scored five in the ninth to win at home against New York. Toronto then won last night on the West Coast. So the Red Sox lead the O’s and Blue Jays both by two games. The Orioles and Toronto are tied for the two AL wild card spots.

The Orioles put tough series-opening losses behind them at Detroit and Boston to win series in both places to end the road trip, and now they have to do it again. Just this time at home.

The Orioles scored six runs last night, but had so many missed chances in key spots. They clearly left a few runs on the bases, going 3-for-15 with runners in scoring position. It was a real downer to start the big 11-game homestand.

Over the last seven games, Wade Miley and Yovani Gallardo gave up 12 runs in 4 2/3 combined innings in their two starts. In the other five games, O’s starters have an ERA of 2.51. The veteran pitchers certainly were terrible in big games, no sugar-coating that.

Now the Orioles have to do it again. Bounce back and win when it looks like their playoff chances have taken a big hit. They’ve done it before. Can they do so yet again?

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