Baltimore Orioles: How important is Wieter’s backup?


Photo: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

It’s hardly the most exciting roster spot, but the backup catcher position could be an important role for the Orioles in 2015, at least in the beginning of the season. It seems at this point All-Star Matt Wieters will be healthy enough to be in the lineup on opening day, and the Orioles couldn’t be happier about having him back. However, after recovering from Tommy John surgery and almost a full season away from the field it could be awhile before the Orioles see the Matt Wieters everybody remembers.

It’s still very early in the Spring, and hardly time for Orioles’ fans to panic, but Matt Wieters has begun March 0-20 at the plate. This is probably to be expected after missing so much time. Wieters is a tall guy with a long swing. He’ll need some time to regain timing.

Also, there is no doubt he has done everything in his power to be ready for the season, but no time in the gym or on the practice field can get a player’s endurance game ready like being on the field. For those reasons, the backup catcher could see significant time early in the season, and the decision behind who that will be becomes that much more important.

The front-runner would have to be last season’s starter Caleb Joseph. Joseph was impressive behind the plate for much of the season, and is probably the best defensively out of the options available. However, he struggled mightily with the bat late last season, including a .080 average in September. The dip in production could’ve came from the fatigue of catching an entire major-league season, but if during the spring he shows that last September could be the norm, he could quickly lose his spot.

Joseph’s horrendous September could be the reason the Orioles brought in veteran J.P. Arenciba. Joseph would probably have the advantage defensively, but Arencibia has shown he can hit for power in the past, hitting 18 or more homers in three of his five Major-League seasons. Although he has struggled mightily to a sub-.200 batting average the past two seasons, his past power numbers will probably get him a long look during the spring.

The two long shots to win the job are Steve Clevenger and Ryan Lavarnway. Clevenger won the job last season coming out of spring training, but Buck was never satisfied with his defense and he was quickly sent back to AAA. In the minors, hitting was never Clevenger’s issue, as evidence by his .304 average last season. Although he has never be able to repeat that success at the major-league level, the issue may be his inability to adjust to inconsistent at-bats as a backup.

Ryan Lavarnway gives the Orioles another Major-League level option in training camp, and options is something the Orioles value. Like Clevenger, he has produced solid numbers in the minors while finding it difficult to secure consistent ABs at the major-league level. However, also similar to Clevenger, his defense is probably not up to par with what Buck wants at the position.

The Orioles may see more of the backup catcher than they would want early in the season as Matt Wieters returns to game speed. Given the offensive the Orioles lost this past offseason, it’ll be interesting whether Buck will choose to go with offense behind Wieters when the team goes north or whether if he’ll stick with defense as has been his norm.