One of the most intriguing questions of spring training will likely involve Baltimore Orioles rookie catcher Chance Sisco. Did Sisco show the Orioles enough in 10 late-season games in 2017 to secure a roster spot for this year?
Sisco, the Orioles' second-round draft pick in 2013, has had an exemplary minor league career, at least offensively. He's hit .311 with a .390 on-base percentage. Last season, Sisco, who'll turn 23 in February, hit .267 with a .340 OBP for Triple-A Norfolk.
The Orioles haven't been concerned about Sisco's offense, and they insist his defense has improved markedly. While he threw out just 23 percent of runners trying to steal on him at Norfolk (21 of 93), they say he got better in the season's final weeks.
Sisco was recalled when the rosters expanded Sept. 1 but got limited playing time until the Orioles were mathematically eliminated from the postseason.
He started four times and hit .333 (6-for-18) with two home runs and four RBIs. Sisco failed to throw out any of the five runners who attempted to steal on him.
That's hardly enough of a look for manager Buck Showalter and bench coach John Russell, who tutors the catchers, to make an informed evaluation.
Last season, the Orioles had two quality catchers in Welington Castillo and Caleb Joseph. Castillo moved on to the Chicago White Sox after he didn't invoke his $7 million option for 2018, but Joseph will return for his fifth season.
Joseph had a solid bounce-back season. After failing to drive in a run in 132 at-bats in 2016, he drove in 28 while batting .256.
While Sisco is considered the Orioles' catcher in the coming years, the 31-year-old Joseph is solid enough to begin the year as the starter.
In Sisco's favor for starting the season with the Orioles is that he's a left-handed hitter in a lineup full of right-handers. Of the projected everyday starters, only first baseman Chris Davis bats left-handed.
Showalter isn't likely to platoon Sisco and Joseph. He has often said that defense, not offense, is his reason for giving a catcher playing time, and Sisco must show he can handle developing young starters such as right-handers Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman.
In 2017, Gausman had much greater success with Joseph behind the plate than Castillo. His ERA in 19 starts that Joseph caught was 2.62, and it was 7.53 in the 14 that Castillo caught. (Gausman allowed six runs in four innings the only time Sisco caught him.)
Showalter also doesn't like the idea of personal catchers, but he will go with what works, and Sisco must earn the starters' trust. Sisco is also going to have to show he's capable of handling a demanding reliever such as right-hander Darren O'Day, too.
The Orioles remain in the market for a veteran catcher in case Sisco isn't ready to start the season in Baltimore.
If Sisco is chosen as the Opening Day catcher, he'd be just the third rookie in team history (and the first since Geronimo Gil in 2002) to do so.
Sisco will get lots of playing time in Grapefruit League games, and the Orioles will be closely watching his side sessions with veteran pitchers.