SARASOTA, FLA. — Top overall draft pick Adley Rutschman has played a lot of baseball in his life, so there isn’t much about his first big league spring training camp that has caught him by surprise.
He has crouched for countless bullpen sessions, played in big college games, ridden plenty of team buses and attended his share of team meetings, and yet the four innings he played behind the plate in Tuesday’s exhibition game against the Tampa Bay Rays were still kind of a big deal.
It was his first time behind the plate in a major league uniform. He got an at-bat as a pinch hitter in the Grapefruit League opener against the Braves at CoolToday Park and had two at-bats as a designated hitter in the Orioles’ first home game of the spring at Ed Smith Stadium, but this was different.
“I was really excited to be back there again,” Rutschman said on Wednesday morning. “Being in a spring training setting, I was super excited to have that opportunity again."
He got to experience a little bit of everything in the 15-2 blowout loss to the Rays, who scored seven runs off three young pitchers while he was in the game. He also got his fourth exhibition at-bat, but still is waiting for his first hit.
Even his four non-productive at-bats are part of the education that Rutschman happily is soaking up.
“It’s just trying to get comfortable in the box again and see pitches and basically get your timing down,” he said. “That’s just hitting.”
Manager Brandon Hyde said Wednesday morning that he wants to give Rutschman as much exposure to the big league camp experience as possible on a team that has 69 players in camp.
“I want him to experience major league camp and got him in the game for four innings yesterday," Hyde said. “I really like his presence behind the plate. He really sets up well. He’s just got every tool. For his first full year in pro ball, to get some major league camp at-bats and innings behind the plate, I think is really beneficial for him.”
Rutschman won’t be here much longer. He was a nonroster invitee and he is not expected to spend any time in the majors this season, so he’ll likely be sent across town to minor league camp in the next week or so. Hyde said that the staff has not yet discussed when to make the first round of cuts.
Though the Orioles have a particularly large roster of pitchers needing bullpen sessions, Hyde said that the decision to keep Rutschman in big league camp will depend only on what the organization thinks is best for his development.
When Rutschman goes, he’ll take away more than just the opportunity to get comfortable with some future big league teammates. Those bullpen sessions early in camp are an opportunity to build a mental database full of information about the pitchers he got his first opportunity to work with.
“It definitely is a lot of information to take in, but you get a feel for each guy when you catch bullpens," he said, "and there’s always that dialogue that goes on before the bullpen and after the bullpen — what the guy is working on, what he needs out of me. Just having that open communication really helps speed up that process of getting to know each guy.”
There’s a lot to learn, even for such a highly prized former college star, but Rutschman was well prepared for his first major league camp. He got intel about the spring training routine from several former Oregon State stars who preceded him in pro ball.
“I kind of came into it with a good understanding of what was going to happen, just because the guys who came before me and what they told me coming in,” he said. “It’s been a fairly easy adjustment, as far as the scheduling goes, but there are always new things that come up in spring training, especially not being here before.”
Negro League celebration
The Orioles honored the 100th anniversary of the formation of the Negro Leagues by inviting Bob Kendrick, president of the Negro League Baseball Museum in Kansas City, to speak to the players Wednesday morning at both Buck O’Neil minor league facility and the Ed Smith Stadium big league complex.
Kendrick also was in Sarasota to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at Wednesday’s exhibition game between the Orioles and Atlanta Braves.
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