Baseball America’s John Manuel on Chance Sisco’s defense

He may not be hitting with big power right now, but no one is questioning O’s catching prospect Chance Sisco’s ability to hit for a high batting average on the farm. It is a big reason he was named by Baseball America on Monday as the Orioles’ No. 1 prospect.

Baseball America’s John Manuel called him “a true No. 1 prospect. You have a guy that, for more organizations than not, would be a No. 1 prospect.”

At just 21, Sisco rises to the top of the list of Orioles prospects after being ranked No. 10 following his first pro season and then No. 4 and No. 3 over the last two years.

Sisco hit .371 in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, .340 at Single-A Delmarva (winning a battle title), .308 at Single-A Frederick and this year .320 at Double-A Bowie. His career slash line is .323/.403/.435.

Sisco-Catches-Futures-Game-Sidebar.jpgAs he gets closer to the big leagues, he is also improving his defense as a catcher. He played to solid reviews at Bowie for his game-calling, communication with the pitching staff, and his blocking and receiving. He threw out 24.8 percent attempting to steal after nabbing 20.3 percent at Single-A Frederick the year before. That is certainly not a great percentage, but we don’t know how well the pitchers held runners on and/or how much of a chance he had to record a higher percentage.

I asked Manuel if Sisco could advance to the major leagues and be an average defensive catcher.

“I think he will be,” he said. “The sliding scale always tilts the more you hit. I think (Atlanta catcher) Tyler Flowers this year only threw out two base stealers in 58 attempts. Teams don’t run as much anymore in the big leagues. The running game has come down.

“One way to look at it is that the left arm can matter as much as the right arm for a catcher. There is more talk now about the left arm - how you receive and pitch frame and steal some strikes. That probably matters more over 162 games than how many runners you throw out.

“Chance Sisco has shown the scouts we talked to, inside and outside of the organization, that he has made some progress. I don’t think he is ever going to be Joe Mauer, a plus offensive and defensive catcher. But he has some similarities to Mauer’s game - he draws walks and hits for a high average. Sisco is almost like a poor man’s Mauer. The separator is Mauer was a premium defensive player and a premium athlete. I think Sisco is a good athlete that has a chance to be an average defender.”

The Baseball America staff has always seemed to be pretty bullish on Sisco and now he tops their rankings of Orioles farmhands, even if there still are some questions about his defense.

“He’s never going to be a guy that erases running games,” Manuel said. “But he just has to be capable back there. To me, the focus should be on the left hand. Making sure he receives quality and steals some of those strikes. To me, defense behind the plate is talked about less the more you hit.

“I have a high level of confidence in this guy’s offensive game. That homer in the Futures Game at Petco Park was impressive. That was a nice moment for Sisco and a little public confirmation in the prospect realm that this guy is for real.”

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