First Half Surprises No. 4: Caleb Joseph

With the full-season All-Star games complete, takes a look at the top five prospect surprises of the first half of the 2009 season. Inside, ITO continues the countdown with a catching prospect at No. 4.

4. C Caleb Joseph, Age 23, Draft: 7th round 2008 (206th overall)

.328 AVG, .362 OBP, .490 SLG, .852 OPS, 25 CS, 67 SB, 27 CS%

This time last year Caleb Joseph was just getting his feet wet in Aberdeen, making his professional debut. By the end of the year, he hit .261 which was not too bad for a 7th round catcher. However, he was determined heading into the off season that he was not going to play in Delmarva.

In spring training, he made his impression and the Orioles were comfortable with shipping him out to high-A Frederick for the season. The expectations for him could easily have been to maintain the production he had in Aberdeen and while improving defensively and in his game-calling.

Maybe it should not be a surprise that he has completely exceeded his expectations, but show of hands, who honestly though Caleb would be leading his league in batting? It is safe to say that Keys fans have been spoiled over the past two years with their catching corps, and at some point we will be able to say the same about Bowie and Norfolk fans.

The Defense

Caleb has caught 27 percent of would-be base-stealers, but this number is a little lower than it could be. As good as Brian Matusz has been, he was not holding base-runners in Frederick, showing concern for just who he was facing at the plate. Also, Rich Hill had four stolen bases against him in his one rehab start with the Keys and even back to his time with the Cubs, he has not been one to hold runners well. Joseph did catch 43 percent of base-stealers a year ago in Aberdeen, expect to see the numbers to fall somewhere between 2008 and 2009.

In addition to impact on the running game, Joseph has been getting better behind the plate in his first season as a full-time catcher. Despite catching being his primary position in college, he played other positions, starting seven games at second and 11 games at third. Even in Aberdeen he combined to play 10 games at other positions in the field than catcher. His eight passed balls are a little high, but his improvement in blocking pitches has been noticeable throughout the season.

The Offense

Simply put, Joseph's offense is surprising. Batting more than 60 points higher than his professional debut is a good start, but he is also leading the Carolina League in hitting, as a catcher, after skipping a level. We will see if this can last the whole year as he continues to get beat up behind the plate, but he is putting together a remarkable season. He is also sixth in the league in OPS, and fourth in slugging.

One other surprise is that the is up to 12 walks on the season. His teammates let him hear it from the dugout every time he walks. His first came on May 9, the Keys 29th game of the year, and his eight June walks are the most he has had in a month in his professional career. His OBP will not be on the higher end as he goes up to the plate with the intention of hitting the ball, but he is not reckless. He makes solid contact and stays within the strike zone, striking out only 42 times in 253 at-bats.

Forward Looking

Joseph will continue to progress through the system as a catcher, and right now would be the No. 1 catcher in many organizations. The two types of prospects that command higher value than others are starting pitchers and catchers who can hit. The Orioles seem to be doing well in both departments right now.

Joseph may not be on that accelerated plan that Matt Wieters was on and is blocked by Adam Donachie and Guillermo Rodriguez in double-A. Both have done a good job handling a staff that is tied for the Eastern League lead in ERA and has given up the fewest earned runs. It is tough to see changes being made despite Joseph's numbers and play warranting a promotion. What has happened, though, is that once the players have gotten to Bowie, they have accelerated through the system when healthy and producing.

Whether Joesph's play should be surprising or not, it will not be in the future. The expectations have certainly been raised.

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