I’ve seen a lot written about Chance Sisco, the Orioles’ catching prospect lately after he made his debut with the team in September.
Most of these articles seem to think he’s going to be a backup to Caleb Joseph in spite of having a better eye at the plate and batting as a LH hitter, or start in the minors and cede time to a yet to be acquired veteran backstop, or get leapfrogged by what seems to be another Showalter mancrush in Austin Wynns.
Because he is below average in throwing out runners, an ability which is an absolute must for Buck Showalter, who would probably have altered Jim Palmer’s and Mike Mussina’s delivery to speed up their times to home plate if he had managed them in their careers.
Buck is absolutely obsessed with controlling the running game as much as anything else in baseball, which does not bode well for young Sisco.
The only problem is Sisco is probably one of the best pure hitters the Orioles have in their organization. We saw the huge season that Matt Wieters put up in 2008 earning him Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year award, but he has never showed the type of offense that he did in the minors. Part of the reason is that instead of valuing him for his bat and protecting him, Showalter fell in love with his arm so he rode him into the ground behind the plate every season and wasted one of the most valuable tools Wieters had to offer. Now injuries from that abuse have taken their toll so we will likely never see that offense that made him the game’s best prospect.
Sisco has been a different story. He’s never had a spectacular throwing arm and he’s never cracked the top 50 MLB prospects of any publication until this offseason (#44 for MLB Pipeline). However what he has done is put up a career .311 AVG and .390 OBP in the minors and when he debuted this season, in just 10 games he had 22 PAs and hit .333/.455/.778 with a .499 wOBA. That was good enough for 0.3 fWAR in value.
Not even Matt Wieters had those results in his debut in 2009 and looking back at homegrown catchers, I can’t find any that had a better debut offensively than Sisco in the team’s history.
So why aren’t we talking about this more?
Well, the Baltimore media has bought into the obsession of controlling the running game, just as they are biased in favor of Buck Showalter in general, so of course Sisco’s throwing arm outweighs his ability with a bat.
I’ll reference the recent Orioles.com article by Britt Ghiroli:
Yes, it was a small sample size. But the 22 Major League plate appearances Sisco had this fall were encouraging. He had six hits, including two doubles and two home runs. He also walked three times and finished with a respectable line of .333/.455/.778.
Respectable? That is downright fantastic and as I pointed out, probably the best debut of any homegrown Orioles catcher.
But this is what downgrades him in Buck’s and likely Ghiroli’s eyes:
Defensively, Sisco did not throw out a baserunner in five attempts and will spend this winter — along with Spring Training — trying to improve behind the plate, which has always been more of a weakness than his bat.
And then there’s more about his defense here:
“Scouts now project him to be average behind the plate, though his fringy arm and catch-and-throw skills limit his impact on the running game.”
Given the O’s recent woes in their rotation, they can’t afford to have a liability behind the plate, making Sisco’s improvement key in determining if he’ll platoon with Joseph or earn his way into an everyday role, like outfielder Trey Mancini did this year.
So it is his catch and throw skills, yet he has seemingly no problems as a receiver or a game caller. It seems that it is purely his throwing to bases that downgrades him so much as to be a “liability”.
And if you platoon him, he still needs to become the defacto starting catcher because he’s a LH hitter and doesn’t have reverse splits so he should get the bulk of the time against RH pitching.
There’s also another catcher who had a solid bat but was below average at throwing out runners that Dan Duquette acquired in an infamous trade 1997:
Varitek’s career caught stealing percentage is 23%, but the Red Sox didn’t really care because he also caught 4 no-hitters, won a World Series championship and had a career .341 OBP and .774 OPS.
I’d say he was pretty far from being a “liablity” behind the plate and certainly not one at it.
The person that scouted Varitek and recommended him to Duquette as a trade target was also none other than current Orioles’ scouting director Gary Rajsich, so I think he knows a little something about catching prospects.
Here’s Duquette on Sisco when he was called up in an article by the Baltimore Sun:
“He’s taken the time and effort to learn his trade as a catcher,” executive vice president Dan Duquette said. “It’s a tough job and he’s improved a lot in terms of his throwing. I think he’s thrown out 41 percent since the All-Star break.
I’m really proud of the progress he’s made defensively and he’ll get some good experience that will help him in the future, and he can hit.”
It’s pretty clear that Duquette likes Sisco, but when asked about Sisco in a recent interview Buck Showalter instead wanted to talk about Austin Wynns, a 26 year old catcher in Bowie. Buck raved about his catch and throw skills and basically put him at the same level as Sisco in value even though he’s nowhere close.
The fan website OriolesHangout.com recently came out with their list of Top 30 Orioles prospects and they also downgraded Sisco to be only the Orioles’ 4th best prospect in part because of questions about his ability to control the running game and they had Wynns ranked 19th.
Are you kidding me? Now he doesn’t have the Matt Wieters hype machine (nor his own website) but Sisco is the Orioles’ best prospect by far. Wynns is great depth, but there are literally dozens of catchers who could have the same skillset. Somebody with Sisco’s bat and ability to be an average catcher is pretty rare and it seems to be very unappreciated by some just because he won’t make the highlight reel gunning down a runner at 2B.
The best thing the Orioles could do is let Sisco hit all RH pitching to start and bat him at leadoff to take advantage of his on-base ability. With their desperate need for on-base skills and a LH bat to balance their heavy RH lineup, and the fact Sisco does not seem to have issues with his game calling or receiving, the two most important defensive skills for a catcher, the Orioles must include Sisco on their 25 man roster on Opening Day.
To not take a chance on Sisco based purely on his throwing arm would be foolish.
Top image: CC Image (cropped) courtesy of Tom Hagerty on Flickr