The Baltimore Orioles saw several guys behind the plate in 2013 as Matt Wieters back-up, and it appears that in 2014 the back-up job will be won by an inexperienced catcher as opposed to the veteran presence of a guy like Taylor Teagarden in years past.
There is no question that when the Orioles gave Wieters a day of rest that the offense experienced a bit of a downgrade over the past few years, and offense may be the biggest factor in this year's battle for the back-up spot behind Wieters. Both Teagarden and Chris Snyder have moved on to other teams this offseason, thus there will be a competition this Spring.
Heading into Spring Training, yes we realize it's still a month away, that Steve Clevenger is thought to be the leading candidate to land the back-up role. Baltimore acquired Clevenger last summer in the trade with the Chicago Cubs that also brought Scott Feldman over in exchange for Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop. Last season, Clevenger got just 15 at bats at the big league level for the Birds and he hit .267 with a double and two RBI, and the hometown product has posted a career .204 average with one home run and 18 RBI in 244 career plate appearances in the Majors.
Simply looking at Clevenger's big league numbers would be a mistake however, as he has put up some big numbers in the minors, including a career .311 batting average with a .373 on base percentage over parts of eight minor league seasons. If Clevenger can get those numbers to translate to the big leagues, he would not only land the back-up catching role, but could see some serious time at DH as well.
Johnny Monell is also up for the role after being acquired earlier this offseason from the San Francisco Giants for cash considerations and is expected to compete with Clevenger. The left handed hitting Monell has just nine career plate appearances in the big leagues, all of which came last season and he picked up a single and a walk in those plate appearances. Over parts of seven minor league seasons, Monell has compiled a .267 career average with 77 home runs, 152 doubles and 332 RBI with a .351 OBP.
Monell brings a little more power to the table, but Clevenger appears to have a more consistent bat, which would be a big plus for an Orioles lineup that struggles with OBP and has had very little production out of their back-up catchers in recent years.
Clevenger and Monell are expected to be the two main guys competing for the back-up role, but Caleb Joseph and Michael Ohlman are also likely to be in camp come Spring and both are coming off of impressive 2013 seasons. Ohlman is still a year or two away as he spent his entire 2013 season with the High-A Frederick Keys, and Joseph is expected to begin the season with the AAA Norfolk Tides.
Brian Ward could also be in camp for a little while as well, but is likely to join Joseph in AAA, along with either Clevenger or Monell, whomever loses the competition for the Orioles' back-up job.
We understand that this is not a major role that fans worry about when the thoughts of Spring Training start coming back to us after the New Year, but you never know the importance a back-up catcher can play on a team. Just remember in 2012 when the only hits Teagarden seems to get were game winners.
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