On the seventh day, Adley Rutschman homered.
For the past five weeks, that’s been how the Orioles top prospect has ended a series, no matter where the Double-A Bowie Baysox are, punctuating days of steady production with a big blast.
He’s not quite sure why — though his mom wants to know. Maybe it’s getting used to the surroundings, or how he’s pitched. Maybe it’s just a coincidence.
Whatever’s behind it, those Sunday blasts have been a big part of a season that’s reinforcing what kind of special talent the Orioles selected first overall in the 2019 Major League Baseball draft. Before long, one of the game’s top prospects will be written in ink into the heart of their lineup every day for seasons on end.
“You kind of look up and you’re like, ‘Man, Adley is having a really good year,’” Bowie manager Buck Britton said. “It just seems like it’s been the same guy every day. You look up and he’s hitting .300, he’s got 10 homers already. He’s not one of those guys where you say he’s had a hot week or a hot month. It’s just steady.
“You don’t really get a grasp in three days, but over the course of the year, it’s like, you just continue to look at the numbers and I mean, am I just getting used to it? Am I getting comfortable knowing this is what I’m going to get day-in and day-out? Him hitting a home run, I just slap his hand around third. It’s not a big deal anymore.”
Rutschman entered Thursday’s game with the Baysox batting .295 with a .992 OPS and 10 home runs while walking more times (30) than he’s struck out (29). He’s played in every one of Bowie’s 37 games and had either a hit or a walk in 34 of them.
When the Orioles selected him No. 1 overall in the 2019 draft, this is what they expected: standout defense behind the plate, big league-caliber hitting, power from both sides of the plate and an advanced eye for the strike zone. The latter has been evident throughout his time as a professional, even in the limited action he’d get in big league spring training games.
Rutschman is aggressive on pitches he knows he can drive and knows which pitches not to swing at, to a degree that’s impressing everyone on the Baysox staff.
“We had that conversation at the beginning of the year,” Bowie hitting coach Ryan Fuller said. “Everyone knows you’re 1-1. They’re going to pitch really carefully to you. They’re not going to try and give you anything down the middle. 3-0, 3-1, 2-0 counts where you think you’re going to get a heater, you’re going to get a changeup, you’re going to get a slider.
“He’s really embraced that, so going up with one clear intention, here’s what I’m trying to do, and if they don’t give it to me, I’m going to go to first base, take second, get to third and then somebody else is going to knock me in. Obviously, he’s a star. He’s going to be so special. But he’s a team guy, too. He’s not going to go up there and chase just to get his numbers up.”
Rutschman’s magnetic personality and the way he not only works with pitchers but helps his fellow hitters is part of the reputation he built as a college star at Oregon State. He said developing that rapport with a new group of players is always the “toughest part” of a transition, but it’s not the production at the plate or the work behind it that he enjoys the most.
“I think it’s being around the guys,” Rutschman said. “With the group that we have, it makes it fun to be at the ballpark every day. That’s what makes up the majority of your time, being around the guys. When you have a good group like this, you get excited to come.”
Britton said Rutschman is a “silent leader,” one pitchers feel comfortable coming to talk to about their game plan and position players see working so hard that Britton has to sometimes reign him in.
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“Being a 1-1, this guy works extremely hard, to the point, and I say it all the time ... ‘Hey, Adley, you have to slow down a little bit,’” Britton said. “These guys, they feed off it. They feed off each other’s success.”
Few in the Orioles system, or anywhere in the minors, have had the sustained success Rutschman has enjoyed this year.
“When you watch him, you’re awed every day,” Fuller said. “He’ll miss a ball and it will still go out. He can overpower guys, but I think the nice part about this coaching staff is we understand he’s Adley Rutschman, but he’s pushed like every other guy here.
“He has certain things he has to work on to get to be more consistent at the next level, and he’s really appreciative of that and he doesn’t get any special treatment. Like all the other guys, we’re trying to get them ready for Camden Yards, not just have one year of success at Double-A.”
Rutschman, despite his success, isn’t getting drawn into how quickly he’ll go from Bowie to eventually Triple-A Norfolk and then the big leagues. The Orioles are quite aware of his talents, but also know Rutschman hasn’t had a full minor league season to adjust to professional baseball’s rigor and learn how to manage that schedule.
He’s quick to deflect on the topic of his inevitable major league timeline, but knows every day learning in the minors is checking a valuable box for his development.
“It’s just trying to go day-to-day and through the long-haul of the 120 games or whatnot that we have, just being able to show up every day and play and see a new arm every single day and just try and get ready,” Rutshcman said. “That’s kind of been the biggest thing, and also understanding that there are a lot of games, so taking more of a mindset of the process makes it a little bit easier because you have so many ABs and you know that you’re going to get another chance.”