Contributor Chuck Boemmel continues his series of looks into a position-by-position breakdown of the prospects in the Baltimore Orioles organization. Up next, a look at the catching options down on the farm.
Spring training is quickly approaching for the Baltimore Orioles (their first full-squad workout is scheduled for Feb. 17th) and with that in mind, Birds Watcher felt this was an ideal time to take a look at the prospects in the talent pipeline on a position by position basis.
Excitement abounds in Baltimore over the future of the catching position at the major league level. The last time there was this level of excitement about a catcher was in 2007 when Matt Wieters was drafted fifth overall. The 2019 draft, the first under the direction of Orioles General Manager Mike Elias, has not only the potential to set the course for the organization for years to come, it has produced an exponential level of excitement that will be on full display during Spring Training.
You can view previous parts of our series here:
- Baltimore Orioles first base prospects to watch
- Baltimore Orioles second base prospects to watch
- Baltimore Orioles third base prospects to watch
- Baltimore Orioles outfield prospects to watch
- Baltimore Orioles shortstop prospects to watch
Baltimore Orioles Top Catching Prospect
Without a doubt, the Orioles top catching prospect is 2019 number one overall draft pick, Adley Rutschman. Currently considered the fourth overall prospect in all of baseball, Rutschman will be a part of the Orioles major league spring training camp as a non-roster invitee.
Despite having his professional debut delayed by a bout of mononucleosis, Rutschman produced as anticipated once he hit the field. The former member of the 2018 College World Series Champion Oregon State Beavers finished his three-stop debut season with a .254/ .351/ .423/ .774 slash line, four home runs and 26 RBI.
Crowds and excitement followed Rutschman from the Gulf Coast League (Rookie) to Aberdeen (A-Short) and finally to Delmarva (A-Low). He had tee-shirts made of him in both Aberdeen and Delmarva and will have his own bobblehead this year in Delmarva. Attention focused on him in 2019 and it will certainly focus on him in 2020 as well; it is good to be a number one overall draft pick.
Rutschman’s best performance of 2019 came during his time in Aberdeen and provided a glimpse into what we may see when he makes the major league club. In 20 games with the Ironbirds he hit .325/ .413/ .481 with one home run and 15 RBI (166 wRC+) while throwing out five would-be base stealers.
Adley Rutschman collects his first five-hit game!
— Minor League Baseball (@MiLB) August 20, 2019
Rutschman is expected to begin the 2020 season in Frederick (A-Adv.) following his first taste of a big league camp. All eyes will be on him as he progresses through the Orioles system, including those here at Birds Watcher. It is a foregone conclusion this 22-year-old is the future face of the Baltimore Orioles, the excitement centers on when that will occur.
One To Watch
The Orioles sixth-round draft pick in 2019, Maverick Handley, is one to watch. A product of Stanford University, Handley is known for his defense and as such, was named the 2019 Pac-12 Co-Defensive Player of the year. Ironically enough, he shared that award with his fellow Orioles prospect, Adley Rutschman.
Handley threw out 19 base stealers in 2019 for the Ironbirds, allowed four passed balls and committed two errors in finishing the season with a .994 fielding percentage; further evidence of his defensive abilities. While appearing behind the plate in a team-leading 34 games in Aberdeen, Handley slashed .202/ .298/ .237 with four extra-base hits and four RBI in 41 total games. The key to his future success will be to improve his offensive numbers while maintaining his defensive stats.
His move up the organizational ladder in Baltimore has the potential to continue to link him with Rutschman and could produce a scenario where he becomes the back-up to Rutschman in Baltimore.
Norfolk’s (AAA) Martin Cervenka is another non-roster invitee to 2020 Spring Training, if only as one of just the many catchers needed in camp to handle all the pitchers. The native of Prague in the Czech Republic, Cervenka was claimed off of waivers by the Tides in 2017. He played in Bowie (AA) during the 2018 and 2019 seasons before making it to Norfolk for 12 games to close out the 2019 season. A veteran of nine MiLB seasons, Cervenka owns a career .240/ .308/ .351 slash line.
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Bowie’s Brett Cumberland came to the Orioles organization as a part of the 2018 trade of Kevin Gausman and Darren O’Day to the Atlanta Braves. Despite losing about one month of the 2019 season to injury, Cumberland produced a composite .257/ .404/ .415 slash line with five home runs and 24 RBI. He is a prospect who should be in the mix as Norfolk’s 2020 backstop.
Recently re-signed with the Orioles organization, Frederick’s Daniel Fajardo brings some of the most experience in the Orioles organization to the group of catching prospects. He owns a .991 career (8 seasons) fielding percentage to go along with his .251/ .284/ .316 slash line. Solid behind the plate, Fajardo has a 38% career caught stealing rate and handles a pitching staff well. He projects to start the 2020 season in Bowie and could possibly find his way to Norfolk.
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Despite the feeling that all the catching talk in the organization is Adley Rutschman or bust, there are other solid backstops to be found in the Orioles organization. Keep in mind that Rutschman will need a back-up at the major league level; there are prospects in the system who are worthy of being at the MLB level, either in Baltimore or elsewhere.