1:40pm: The Orioles announced that Sisco has indeed been designated for assignment. The move was necessary to open a spot on the roster for right-hander Thomas Eshelman, whose contract has been selected from Triple-A Norfolk. Eshelman will take the place of lefty Bruce Zimmermann and start tonight’s game for the O’s, while Zimmermann is headed to the injured list due to tendinitis in his left biceps.
1:07pm: The Orioles have designated former top catching prospect Chance Sisco for assignment, reports Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com (Twitter link). They’ll now have a week to trade him or attempt to pass him through outright waivers.
Sisco, 26, was a second-round pick back in 2013 and quickly played his way into top prospect status. Sisco raked at every stop through his first few minor league seasons, and Baseball America ranked him among the sport’s 70 best prospects in both 2017 and 2018. His 2016 season, in particular, was an impressive run through Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk, as Sisco combined to bat .317/.403/.430 with a 12.3 percent walk rate against a 17.7 percent strikeout rate. The O’s called Sisco up for a look late in the 2017 season, and he responded with a 6-for-18 showing that included a pair of homers and a pair of doubles. He looked very much like the organization’s catcher of the future.
That began to change in 2018, when Sisco received his first extended look at the MLB level. He played in 63 games for Baltimore that season and logged 184 plate appearances with just a .181/.288/.269 output to show for it. Sisco’s numbers improved to .211/.345/.389 in 2019-20, but he’s struggled mightily so far in 2021 both in the big leagues and down in Norfolk.
Sisco had a nice showing with Triple-A during the 2019 season, but he hasn’t consistently produced even at the sport’s top minor league level. He’s batting .205/.327/.341 through 52 plate appearances in Norfolk this season and carries an overall .264/.352/.421 slash there in parts of five seasons.
Those struggles have become more problematic as Sisco has gotten older and been unable to improve his ability to control the running game. Baseball America noted back in 2018 that Sisco would likely need “perfect footwork” to be a passable thrower from behind the dish, given bottom-of-the-scale pop times as he attempted to throw out runners on the bases. To his credit, he went 6-for-9 in thwarting thieves at the MLB level this season, but he’s also 1-for-16 in that department in Norfolk this year and has a career 21 percent caught-stealing rate in the minors.
Further complicating matters for Sisco is that he’ll be out of options next spring, meaning he’d need to either make the big league roster or go unclaimed on waivers. With his current struggles pushing him down the depth chart, that lack of future flexibility likely contributed to today’s decision to remove him from the 40-man roster.
Sisco’s status as a one-time top catching prospect who can be optioned for the remainder of the year could well hold appeal to another club, either via a small trade or a waiver claim. The most plausible scenario for him to remain with the Orioles beyond the current season would be one where he clears waivers and is later selected back to the MLB roster, but given today’s move, it may be likelier that another club takes a chance on the former top prospect.
With Sisco now in DFA limbo, the only catchers on the Orioles’ 40-man roster are Pedro Severino and light-hitting Austin Wynns. The club has an experienced option in Norfolk in the former of former Rays catcher Nick Ciuffo, but the organization’s hope at the position clearly shifted to Adley Rutschman the moment he was selected with the top pick in the 2019 draft. The switch-hitting Rutschman has utterly obliterated Double-A pitching thus far in 2021, hitting at a .287/.421/.554 pace with ten homers and five doubles through 171 plate appearances in what is typically a pitcher-friendly environment.
It’s not implausible that Rutschman could crack the Majors this season, although rebuilding clubs like the Orioles often seek to delay the arrival of their top prospects in order to gain an additional year of club control. Calling Rutschman up this season, or at any point in the first two weeks of the 2022 campaign, would give the Orioles’ control over him through the 2027 season. Waiting to call him up until 15 days of the 2022 season have elapsed would push that path to free agency back into the 2028-29 offseason.