Whenever Adley Rutschman chats with Grayson Rodriguez, DL Hall or any of the other players who follow him on the list of the Orioles’ top prospects, those talks often drift to the future and thoughts of playing together at Camden Yards.
“That’s the ultimate goal,” Rutschman said Monday. “Looking to the future, hopefully you get to that point to where you get to work with those guys at the big league level. It’s an exciting thing to think about for me, and for those guys, as well. A lot of our topics of conversation are always just about how excited we are to continue to help the Orioles and try and do our best to get there and hopefully win a World Series together and what that would like and just all the potential ahead.”
The next step in that process comes Tuesday, when Rutschman will catch Hall in Double-A Bowie’s season opener. After the 2020 minor league season was lost amid the coronavirus pandemic, Rutschman will at last begin his first full professional season nearly two years after the Orioles made him the first overall pick in the 2019 draft.
“It feels like a big part of my life was missing there for a little bit, and it just makes you appreciate it that much more,” Rutschman said. “Just to get back out there again, get that adrenaline going, it’s going to be exciting. I’m just stoked to be a part of it, man. It’s an exciting time to be an Oriole.”
Rutschman, who Baseball America ranks as the No. 2 prospect in baseball, is a big part of why. A bout of mononucleosis after he was drafted meant the Golden Spikes Award winner didn’t make his professional debut until late July in the Gulf Coast League. Playing in 37 games across three levels, he batted 279/.388/.457 with five home runs, drawing nearly as walks as strikeouts.
After getting some time in major league spring training in 2020, he spent the season at the team’s alternate training site in Bowie before participating in fall instructional camp. He was part of major league camp again this spring, then remained in Sarasota, Florida, for minor league camp. Bowie manager Buck Britton got to see him at many of those stops.
“This is a guy who works harder than anybody I’ve seen, especially somebody that’s been picked that high,” Britton said. “A lot of times, you’ve got to tell Adley to pump the brakes a little bit and slow down. But this guy’s a worker, and he’s just a natural-born leader.
“I can’t even explain it. He’s not very verbal. He’s not in your face. It’s just how he goes about his business, how he carries himself, how he talks to pitchers.”
Hall, Baltimore’s No. 3 prospect, agreed.
“He makes average pitchers look really good,” Hall said. “That’s a huge thing to have somebody back there that makes you really comfortable on the mound and gives you confidence just with his body language.”
With the praise and expectations comes a lot of attention, something Rutschman has faced since earning College World Series Most Outstanding Player honors as a sophomore and following it up with an impressive performance for Team USA that summer. Britton quipped that the only hype he faced in his career came as a result of being the brother of former Orioles closer Zack, but he believed Rutschman was more than capable of handling that weight.
“I don’t think he’s the type of guy that’s going to be absorbed in all that, to be honest,” Britton said.
Rutschman echoed as much.
“People will value how you treat them more than how good of a baseball player you are in the long run, and that’s something I try and keep in mind every single day,” he said. “There’s always going to expectations, and for me, I have to be able to control what I can control, and other people’s expectations don’t really fall into that category.
“That’s how I’ve always treated it, and it’s seemed to work out so far, and I know if I continue to set goals and expectations for myself that everything else should just fall into line.”
His expectations for himself remain high. While he said he “absolutely” is a better player than when he last played in an official game, Rutschman also noted he feels he has areas to improve, particularly game-calling behind the plate.
Given Rutschman’s importance to the organization, Britton said he’s already started thinking about how he might handle a situation as third-base coach when Rutschman is rounding third and trying to score on a potential play at the plate, but he also wants Rutschman to be himself and play freely. The team plans to give Rutschman some work at first base, as well as designated hitter, Britton said, as he works into a full catching load after getting limited time last year.
Mostly, though, Britton is simply excited to get a front-row seat to at least some of Rutschman’s first full professional season.
“I think there’s a lot of pressure, but there’s also a lot of joy, to be a part of this kid’s journey,” Britton said. “Hopefully, this is a guy that’s a staple for us for a long time, and to kind of be a part of it early on and build that relationship with him, it’s more exciting than anything else.
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“I know just the God-given ability he has, and I think just to see him take it up a notch, which I fully expect he will when those lights go on, it’s just going to be exciting. I plan on just kind of sitting back and enjoying the show. … I’m excited to write his name in the lineup every day and hopefully slap his hand around third base every time he hits a three-run homer for me.”