It happened last season at the Orioles’ alternate camp at Bowie. He made a joke that was not 100 percent a joke. When there was not a catcher available during a drill, infielder Rylan Bannon said they could put him back there. It didn’t happen that day, but during instructional league a few weeks later, it did.
Bannon, who turns 25 in April, went behind the plate. That was a first for him. In his minor league career, he had made 85 starts at second base and 172 at third base.
But at instructional league, as I wrote about here, the Orioles did take a look at some players beyond their usual positions. Instructs is a good time to take that look. No harm to find out what the coaches can see.
“While I was down there, they started toying around with some catching stuff with me,” said Bannon. “I guess the catching coaches were talking to some of the head guys and they were saying they thought I might have a chance potentially being a catcher for us. I have been working on that this offseason. One of the guys I work out with is a catcher, so he’s been helping me a ton. Giving me the ins and outs of catching.
“I think they (coaching staff) definitely are interested in it. I have not talked to any of the major league coaches about it yet, but all the minor league coaches were kind of on board with it. Just going to go to spring training and maybe catch a bullpen or something and see what they think.”
The Orioles still see Bannon as an infielder first, and he will certainly get a look at second base and maybe third during spring training. But perhaps he can show the team he could be a third catcher if needed. The versatility can’t hurt. And the willing attitude to give it a go is a plus, too.
Who knew that remark during the summer at Bowie could lead to this?
“When I was in Bowie at the alternate site, I threw a joke out there one day,” Bannon said. “We had no catchers for a drill. I threw a joke out there that I would get back there. I didn’t at that time. But later on, the catching coach came up and said, ‘Are you interested in catching?’ I said, ‘If it gets me on the field, I’ll do anything.’ So that is kind of how it all came to be. Then I was down at instructs and we messed around a little bit with it. Maybe they liked what they saw and I’ve been working on it a little bit.”
Bannon has been working out this winter at the Bo Jackson dome near Chicago to get out of the snow around his home in Joliet, Ill. He was a non-roster infielder at spring training last year and was added to the O’s 40-man roster on Nov. 20. At the time, O’s executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said the club values him highly and felt he’d get taken in the Rule 5 draft if not protected with a 40-man spot.
Now Bannon heads south to try and earn a roster spot in the majors for the first time. He might be a bit of a long shot, but some uncertainty remains in the Baltimore infield and Bannon will try to open some eyes under the Florida sun.
Ranked as the No. 26 prospect by MLBPipeline.com, Bannon is not in the latest Baseball America top 30. But he was ranked by Baseball America as Baltimore’s No. 23 prospect in 2019 and No. 30 during 2020.
He hit .266/.345/.421/.766 in 130 games during the 2019 season, with 110 of those games with Double-A Bowie. In 20 late-year games with Triple-A Norfolk he batted .317/.344/.549/.893.
In 291 career games since the Los Angeles Dodgers drafted him out of Xavier in 2017 in round eight, Bannon has hit .280/.375/.481/.856 with 43 homers. Before the Manny Machado trade of July 18, 2018, when Bannon moved from the Dodgers to the Orioles, he hit 20 homers with a .961 OPS in 89 games in the Single-A California League. Then he left the league after the deal. But his season was impressive enough for him to win the league MVP award without playing after the trade.
At 5-foot-8 and 180 lbs., Bannon doesn’t look like he should have the pop that he does. Weight room work has been big, he said.
“I take a lot of pride in the weight room. Being a smaller guy, I kind of have to,” he said. “If I wasn’t strong for my size, I probably wouldn’t have the pop that I have. But don’t take away from my swing. I still feel I have a good swing and having a good swing translates to having some pop and power. So when I get in the box, I’m not thinking about being strong. At the end of the day, you have to get the barrel to the ball and that’s where the pop is going to come from.”
When he was doing infield work this winter, Bannon said he spent more time at second base at the direction of the Orioles. He worked on footwork around the bag and turning the double play.
He left one organization noted for success with young players and joined an O’s organization that is going to try and win with young players moving forward.
“The player development with the Dodgers was incredible, top to bottom. They did a really good job and used a lot of the new-school stuff,” Bannon said. “When I got traded to the Orioles, they were very old-school. But they are trending in the right direction with all the new hires and all the new coaches they are putting in place. They are trending in that direction that I saw with the Dodgers, which is awesome to see.”
For more with Bannon, check out the Zoom video interview we shot.