For most teams in Major League Baseball, starting the backup catcher against last year’s AL Cy Young runner-up would render the number nine spot in the order all but an automatic out. For the Baltimore Orioles, things are different. Caleb Joseph is far from the typical backup catcher.
As the Orioles sought to keep their season-opening winning streak alive against the Boston Red Sox and new ace David Price, Joseph was slotted into the bottom of the order with Matt Wieters taking the day partially off to DH. Not only did Joseph provide his typically solid defense behind the dish, he also singled in the top of the third off Price and coaxed a walk from All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel in the pivotal ninth inning. Both times he reached base, Joseph came around to score.
Where other teams would be expecting very little from their backup catcher on his occasional appearances, Joseph keyed two crucial rallies for the Orioles en route to a 9-7 victory. When his backup backstop draws the start, manager Buck Showalter should not expect a major drop in offensive production. Joseph may not be Buster Posey, but he certainly isn’t Ryan Lavarnway, Curt Casali, Josh Thole, or Austin Romine. Almost every other backup catcher in the league would consider batting .225 a successful season.
Caleb Joseph would have been slated to be the Orioles’ everyday catcher this season were it not for Matt Wieters accepting the qualifying offer. As a starter for the first three months last season, Joseph acquitted himself quite well with the bat. His numbers went the wrong way when he and Wieters began their back-and-forth routine in June. The 29-year-old showed an uncanny ability to elevate his game in clutch situations last year, batting .351 and knocking in 17 with two outs and runners in scoring position. A team having a starting catcher who has been to the All-Star Game and a backup capable of slugging close to .400 is almost unheard of in today’s game.
Caleb Joseph is not an All-Star, but he is a dependable catcher who can be counted on to pick up a hit every four trips to the plate. With the game on the line, Buck Showalter does not have to observe from the dugout as his backup catcher goes down feebly on three pitches. Joseph has worked hard to perfect his skills as a pitch caller and receiver, furthering his status as an asset to the Orioles for his ability to coax the best innings out of his starting staff. A case could be made that he should serve as the personal caddy for Ubaldo Jimenez or Kevin Gausman, two pitchers with wild swings in performance depending on who is behind the plate.
The Orioles are much maligned for their lack of talented role players, but the situation is not as grim as some want to believe. At least once a week, nearly every team in the league gives away four at-bats by starting their backup catcher. In Baltimore, when Caleb Joseph starts, the Orioles are guaranteed four high-quality at-bats, a luxury by any stretch of the imagination. Seeking a return to the postseason, the backup catcher remains as important as any player in an Orioles uniform this season.