Shorebird of the Week – April 16, 2015

Last season the Shorebirds had the best hitting catcher combo in the South Atlantic League – hard to argue against a pair which had a SAL batting champ and a backup who hit a respectable .252 behind the dish.

While time will tell how well the 2015 combo does, Alex Murphy is certainly doing his part to keep up this new tradition. You might recall Murphy had a brief cameo here early last season when Chance Sisco went down, going 3-for-15 in 4 games. Despite a tough doubleheader last night that dragged his average down to .269 (on 7-for-26 hitting), those hits have seemed to be timely ones as the 20-year-old out of Calvert Hall High School in Baltimore leads the SAL in the early going with 9 RBI.

Murphy was one of four promising young catchers Baltimore snagged in the 2013 draft. 2014 Shorebirds Chance Sisco and Austin Wynns were two of the quartet; both are now toiling for Frederick. Coming up behind them are Murphy and teammate Jonah Heim, who will split the duty this season. As a sixth round pick, Murphy was actually the third of the quartet taken, after Sisco and Heim.

Alex has been a solid hitter in his brief career, sporting a .263 lifetime mark mainly based on a fine .277/3/25/.715 OPS performance as Aberdeen’s primary receiver last season – he also made several starts as the DH, which is likely the plan for this season as well. It’s something the Orioles almost have to do to get their catchers a sufficient opportunity to hone their offensive skills given the extraordinary organizational depth they have at the position with a number of major league-experienced catchers at the higher levels and four high draft choices moving up from the bottom.

So while Murphy may seem to be at the bottom of the totem pole, bear in mind that the Orioles can deal from strength at that position and may trade away one or more of these catching prospects in coming years. Being a hometown product, though, I’m sure the Orioles will make a little more effort to keep Alex within the fold. In the meantime – unlike the case in several previous Shorebird campaigns – we shouldn’t consider this catcher an easy out at the plate.