While we’re waiting for Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson to take his final bow of the season this weekend, it might be a good time for local sports fans to think about how they’re going to get through the next six months without him.
Jackson, the presumptive NFL Most Valuable Player, captured our imagination when he replaced Joe Flacco 15 months ago and he has held it tightly ever since, but unless he reports to spring training with the Orioles, we’re going to have to find a way to entertain ourselves until Ravens training camp opens in late July.
This would be a lot easier if there was even a remote possibility of seeing No. 1 prospect Adley Rutschman at the major league level this year, but he’s ticketed for High-A Frederick and is not likely to rise higher than Double-A Bowie in 2020.
Maybe next year, it won’t be crazy to fantasize about him showing up in the majors at midseason. He might be rated as the top prospect in all of baseball by then and the Orioles might be a step closer to becoming a competitive team. In the meantime, rebuild-weary O’s fans should be grateful that the franchise long ago arrayed most of its minor league clubs within easy driving distance so they can do a little amateur player evaluation this summer.
There might even be a little Rutschmania brewing already, since he’s scheduled to report to spring training with the Orioles in just two weeks. He got an nonroster invitation to major league camp and immediately will be one of the most-watched players at the Ed Smith Stadium complex in Sarasota, Florida, though his stay there may only last until minor league camp officially opens at nearby Twin Lakes Park a couple of weeks later.
Regardless of how long he has a locker in the main clubhouse, he’s the most exciting prospect to get an invitation to big league camp in his first season after being drafted since pitcher Dylan Bundy and his electric arm showed up in Sarasota in 2012. So, he likely will provide one of the most interesting Orioles subplots of the spring.
If nothing else, it’ll be a nice distraction while Chris Davis tries again to prove that he still has some good $23 million years left in him.
Rutschman also will give Orioles fans incentive to head out to Interstate-70 to Harry Grove Stadium when the Keys open their 2020 home schedule April 16.
Of course, at this point in the long-term organizational rebuilding project, the emphasis will still be on player development at every level of the Orioles system, starting right at the top. The O’s have lost 223 games over the past two seasons and they’ll probably lose another 100 or so this year, so the fans will have to find their entertainment value in the potential displayed by another young and unimposing ballclub.
How many will do that remains a major question after attendance dropped last season to 1,307,807, which was barely a third of what the team drew each year during the late 1990s.
It’s going to be a tough sell. Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias is still in the late stages of the teardown phase, as evidenced by the deals that sent Bundy to the Los Angeles Angels and Jonathan Villar to the Miami Marlins for five pitching prospects. Less star power generally translates to less interest, which will likely hold true unless the O’s can show off some of that pitching talent they’ve been hoarding and make a convincing case that the journey back to respectability is worth the price of admission.