With spring training, as the saying goes, “hope springs eternal.” It can serve as a fresh start and clean slate for players and teams alike.
Probably no Orioles player welcomes this is as much as catcher Caleb Joseph. A solid contributor to the 2014-15 teams, Joseph had a miserable 2016 season that included a .174 batting average and zero RBIs in 141 plate appearances. He also suffered a testicular injury that required surgery. It was a rough year.
Yep, he’s ready to start over and prove he’s better than that. O’s fans have seen him be better.
The same player that hit .074 (2-for-27) with runners in scoring position last year, hit .316 (24-for-76) with an OPS of .844 with RISP in 2015. That season, Joseph averaged an RBI every 6.5 at-bats, topping, for instance, Adam Jones (one every 6.6 at-bats) and Manny Machado (one every 7.4).
So with the knowledge that he’s done it before and intends to do it again, Joseph is probably thrilled for a fresh start.
“It’s huge and I already have (started over),” he said at FanFest. “Mentally, physically, I’ve already started over. I’m really excited for 2017, for multiple reasons. One, we’ve got a great team coming back. Two, I feel great. And three, I love this team.
“Being with them at FanFest, even for just a couple of hours, was so much fun. Energizing. I’m ready to go. Mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually and any other words you can throw in there. I’m ready.”
Joseph’s defense is considered solid, from pitch framing to game calling and throwing out runners. The 2014 American League East champion Orioles sported a team ERA of 3.44. But it was even better at 3.00 when Joseph caught, the best mark on the team. He had the best mark in 2015 as well at 3.65 to the team mark of 4.05.
Last year, his catcher ERA was higher than the overall team mark with Joseph’s number at 4.28 (Matt Wieters was first at 3.98) with a team mark of 4.22. Joseph threw out 31.3 percent of runners last season and his career mark is 33.1. Ironically, Joseph’s defense was questioned throughout his minor league career, but he’s proven to be better than those scouting reports now.
Joseph is ready for a challenge when pitchers and catchers report next week. The challenge is to keep his job as the No. 2 catcher. While Joseph has a minor league option remaining, Francisco Pena does not. Non-roster invitee Audry Perez may also get a look in Florida.
“You have to produce when you are out there,” Joseph said. “There is no question about that. Buck (Showalter) is going to make the decisions. He’s made them since he got here and it’s worked out right. The team has been in the playoffs. The tradition is back. You just have to put yourself in the best position possible. And that is all I can control. That is what I’m focused on. Just being as prepared as I can and when I get a chance, play as best as I can. You get more time when you play well. It’s on me, so we’ll see.”
It is clear that Joseph takes great pride in the results produced by the pitching staff. He loves catching any pitcher but was asked specifically about the young duo in the rotation in right-handers Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy.
“We believed that Dylan would be the type of pitcher he finished out as,” Joseph said. “And Gausman, we’ve been hoping and waiting for that for a while now. Not for lack of trying. Sometimes it takes power pitchers time. And it really clicked for Gausman. Two extremely exciting prospects and extremely exciting starting pitchers for us.
“I love catching both of them. Mentally, they are very similar. Bulldog mentality. They love to win and they are not afraid to do the tough things, like pitch inside and pitch inside when behind in the count. When you have that kind of attitude and the stuff they have, more times than not you will be successful. It’s easier to be a catcher with those type of guys. I’m so excited they finished the way they did. It gives them a huge boost coming into this year and they are going to have to step up. Especially with the loss of (Yovani) Gallardo. They are the guys, so let’s see what happens.”
One of the best interviews in the Orioles clubhouse, Joseph is also known for his impressions and ability to crack up his teammates. His talents don’t end there. At FanFest, he showed off his drumming skills.
During a one-man show Joseph entertained the fans, and especially the kids. Click here to see that. Joseph said playing the drums can help with his baseball skills.
“Seriously, it does help,” he said. “Rhythm, tempo, being soft with your hands, but quick at the same time. It really does help, I’m not going to lie. That is why I’d like an entire drum set in the clubhouse.”
As it turns out, with or without an RBI, Joseph is pretty awesome.
Note: The Orioles late this morning announced that Pena has been designated for assignment to make 40-man roster room for right-handed pitcher Gabriel Ynoa. They acquired Ynoa from the New York Mets for cash considerations. Ynoa went 12-5 with a 3.97 ERA last season for Triple-A Las Vegas. In 18 1/3 innings in the majors, he went 1-0 with a 6.38 ERA. He is noted as a control specialist in one scouting report with a fastball in the low 90s and a career walk-rate of 1.52 per every nine innings. He is the Mets’ No. 9 ranked prospect according to Baseball America and No. 18 ranked prospect according to MLBPipeline.com.