NORFOLK, Va. — Look around the Norfolk Tides’ clubhouse, and the highly ranked Orioles prospects are everywhere. They’re knocking on the door, making their mark in Triple-A with an eye turned north at Baltimore.
There’s catcher Adley Rutschman, the top-ranked prospect in baseball. Right-hander Grayson Rodriguez and left-hander DL Hall are also here at Harbor Park, ranked as the No. 2 and No. 3 prospects in the Orioles’ organization, according to Baseball America. It’s hard to see that glut of prospects with the Tides and not think of the future.
“Got the boys here,” said left-hander Nick Vespi, a reliever who might not be far off from an Orioles debut, either.
While Baltimore’s top prospects stockpiled in Norfolk, that’s where they try to keep their focus. Rutschman is already savvy enough to dispel — at least externally — any thoughts beyond his next game, but Rodriguez admitted there’s no ignoring the inevitable, especially when future Orioles are all around.
During batting practice, playing catch, out to dinner — just about any situation, those conversations occur, dreaming of an ever-nearing day when one or all of them might be playing together at the major league level.
“There’s a lot of talk about it,” Rodriguez said, “and it’s happening soon.”
How soon depends on the prospect. Last Monday, Baltimore might’ve played its last game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards without Rutschman, before a road trip to St. Louis and Detroit. A call-up for next Monday’s game against the New York Yankees isn’t out of the realm of possibilities, especially after his rapid rise from a rehabilitation assignment at High-A Aberdeen to Double-A Bowie to Triple-A Norfolk.
Rodriguez feels ready, although the promotion path has been slower for pitchers. Hall will be slower still, needing to build up more after making his Triple-A debut Tuesday at Harbor Park, throwing 53 pitches in three innings of one-run ball.
“It’s just exciting that we’re seeing guys move up,” Rutschman said, “and the fact that all those guys are such great dudes and we’re all so close.”
Before they arrive in Baltimore, though, the games at this level will decide the timetable. And no matter how many highly ranked prospects are with Norfolk, wins aren’t guaranteed. The Tides finished their most recent road trip at 3-9. They lost 11 of their previous 14 games before Tuesday’s 6-1 win.
It’s a reminder that, however bright the future might be, the focus still needs to be on the present.
“It’s great to have the talent, for sure, and we have a lot of it,” Tides manager Buck Britton said. “There’s still something to be said about playing good baseball. Our main focus here right now, even though we have the talent, the expectation is high. We’ve got to make sure we’re doing the things here to prepare us and stay on top of them so when they do go to the big leagues, they can perform. Because you make a mistake here, it gets amplified even more up there.”
As Rutschman rehabbed from a tricep strain suffered at the start of major league spring training that held him off the Orioles’ opening day roster, he admitted there was some frustration. He worked back from that injury in Florida, waiting for a chance to play everyday baseball with an affiliate once more.
The 24-year-old noticed he was trying to speed up the process at times, so he forced himself to take a step back, realizing that rushing his rehab process wasn’t the best way to return to the field at full strength. Now that he’s back in Triple-A — the level he reached in 2021 — he’s appreciative, even if this isn’t his end goal.
“There’s that aspect of just having that perspective of, I get to play every day,” Rutschman said. “Every day you get to come out here and play baseball is a blessing, so I’m just happy to be here now playing with the guys. To be able to be healthy, I think that’s the biggest thing, to have that gratitude. I think that escapes you when you’re just caught up in the grind of baseball.”
And while Rodriguez said his ideal situation would be to pitch 100 to 110 pitches every fifth day, he understands the more methodical approach from the organization, holding him to a maximum of 82 pitches thus far.
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“I’m ready,” Rodriguez said, and the bulk of his six appearances back up that claim. He struggled in two appearances against the Gwinnett Stripers, allowing a combined eight runs, but has otherwise conceded two runs in 19 2/3 innings.
Britton has still told just one player in his time as a minor league manager that he has received a major league promotion. The circumstances for that discussion — telling right-hander Dillon Tate at 3 a.m. in a Binghamton, New York, hotel — weren’t ideal.
And when right-hander Kyle Bradish was called up earlier this year, Orioles pitching coach Chris Holt broke the news, which Britton admitted was “disappointing.”
He should have more opportunities throughout this season, though, with Rutschman, Hall, Rodriguez and others all approaching Baltimore. And when that time comes, Britton is developing a plan between him and pitching coach Justin Ramsey to make it a special moment.
“If I have enough time in advance, I’d like to possibly get the Norfolk Police Department involved,” Britton said. “But we’ll keep it to that.”
For now, he and the rest of Norfolk’s players can look around the clubhouse. There’s no shortage of highly anticipated prospects to find exciting.
“All these prospects, man, Adley, DL and everybody else, right?” outfielder Robert Neustrom said. “It’s going to happen soon. They have the talent. They’ll always have the talent, that’s for sure. I think sometime soon, we’re going to be seeing the O’s winning games.”