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Orioles top prospect Adley Rutschman didn’t stop improving in 2020. The spotlight on him didn’t dim, either.

Orioles catcher Adley Rutschman gets ready to catch a pitching session after pitchers and catchers took the field for the first day of practice at Orioles Spring Training. February 12, 2020
Orioles catcher Adley Rutschman gets ready to catch a pitching session after pitchers and catchers took the field for the first day of practice at Orioles Spring Training. February 12, 2020 (Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun)

SARASOTA, FLORIDA — A year ago Saturday, the Orioles sent catcher Adley Rutschman down from his first major league spring training with nearly a month’s worth of experience of what will be expected of him when he’s in the big leagues to carry into his minor league season.

As he starts at designated hitter for Saturday evening’s spring game against the Detroit Tigers, a year of stunted development largely outside of the public eye hasn’t changed the fact that Rutschman’s progress is still among the more significant things happening in this Orioles rebuild as the future face of the franchise.

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“I think it’s a very fortunate and humbling position to be in, to have people say that, but you know I think it gets easier every day,” Rutschman said. “Every single day that I’m here playing baseball, it gets a little easier.”

The No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 MLB draft remains one of the best prospects in all of baseball, and a year without minor league baseball for his development to be showcased to the world hasn’t changed that.

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After he was sent to minor league camp last March, Rutschman had barely a week there before everyone was sent home.

Eventually, he got three months at the team’s alternate site to develop with the Orioles’ other top prospects and major league depth players. He told The Baltimore Sun in October that he used the time there to really experiment with “what stance, what load, [and] what swing played the best” against higher-level pitching than he’d seen before in his career. By the last month of camp, he was dominating at the plate.

He also got experience calling games behind the plate to a specific report and learning how to deal with veteran pitchers, many of whom had major league experience.

“I think the alternate site helped quite a bit, just being able to get those three months in of work, of facing pitchers live again and being able to catch some of the guys over there helped a lot,” Rutschman said Saturday. “As far as that goes, I’d like to think some of the stuff we’re trying to do as far as pitch calling, controlling the game, and just having those three months of being able to work on my swing or whatnot, I just like to think I’m an overall better player from that.”

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At the team’s instructional camp for prospects in October, Rutschman was among the leaders in helping promote the new hitting staff’s methods to a group of players who hadn’t had much experience for it, allowing those coaches to enjoy immediate buy-in and get better results with the larger group early.

This spring, it’s been just as much about baseball for Rutschman as it has been simply dealing with his profile. When he got his first start earlier this week, manager Brandon Hyde said Rutschman was swinging a little out of control for his first three at-bats before calming down for his fourth one and striping a run-scoring double.

Rutschman believes he can compete at any level — such is the mindset of someone as growth-oriented as he is. He doesn’t know his timeline to get to the big leagues, and only wants to get better every day until that comes.

But the last year has also been important for him in further enhancing his thought control and not letting himself try and over-extend himself the way Hyde believed he was on Wednesday.

He said the team’s offseason book clubs and mindset work with mental skills coach Kathryn Rowe were helpful for him, the latter teaching breathing techniques and mindfulness, were helping him as the games — and the attention — comes back this spring.

Rutschman said: “I think the most important thing for me is understanding, having the ability to be able to step back from the game and just realizing how fortunate you are to be able to play the game, I think, just puts everything in perspective first and foremost. You’re able to step back and just see everything as an opportunity as opposed to a pressure situation. So, I think that’s the first thing. Then, just being able to control your mind and your body and being able to relax and breath, I guess.”

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