Advertisement
Baltimore Orioles

As Adley Rutschman joins a young Orioles lineup, the future looks more like the present

Ryan Mountcastle pulled into the parking lot at Camden Yards on Saturday and noticed an increase in the number of autograph seekers near the players’ entrance. He was set to come off the injured list that afternoon, and yet the return of the young slugger to the Orioles’ lineup was far from the day’s biggest news.

“I was like, ‘Oh, you guys are that excited I’m off the IL?’” Mountcastle quipped later in the Orioles’ clubhouse, knowing full well that their presence was only the first sign of the fan base’s excitement about Adley Rutschman — baseball’s top prospect — finally joining the major league roster.

Advertisement

The Orioles’ No. 1 prospect since they took him first overall in the 2019 draft, Rutschman, 24, was batting sixth and catching in manager Brandon Hyde’s lineup for Saturday’s second game of a series with the Tampa Bay Rays. The five names in front of him — Cedric Mullins, Austin Hays, Anthony Santander, Trey Mancini and Mountcastle — have been the Orioles’ most productive hitters for much of this rebuild. All but Mancini have at least two seasons of team control remaining, meaning most of a potent lineup that could carry through as the Orioles shift from rebuilding to contending in the American League East might already be in place.

“It was fun to write the lineup out today,” Hyde said. “It felt good to see so many young talented guys that we have hopes for.”

Advertisement

Hyde is in his fourth season writing the Orioles’ lineups, and perhaps none has been a better indicator of the trend of the organization. Rutschman was set to catch Kyle Bradish, the organization’s No. 8 prospect according to Baseball America, in Saturday’s debut. By sitting out Friday’s game with Triple-A Norfolk — a rest day after catching three straight games for the first time this year — Rutschman missed out on another chance to work with No. 3 prospect DL Hall, having caught No. 2 prospect Grayson Rodriguez, also the sport’s top minor league pitcher, three days earlier. Those batteries will feature at Camden Yards before long.

“You want to believe that we’re turning the corner, and that we’re starting to play competitive AL East baseball and have the type of players that are going to be able to compete and win a division,” Hyde said.

Rutschman represents the most significant piece toward that endeavor. Heralded as one of the best catching prospects the game has seen, he has faced almost insurmountable hype throughout his tenure in the organization. But with those expectations comes excitement, and it’s the latter feeling that Rutschman savored Saturday in Camden Yards’ auxiliary clubhouse, where he was first introduced after signing with the Orioles almost three years ago.

“About as excited as I can be right now,” Rutschman said. “This is probably the coolest thing, the coolest moment that I’ve had so far, and I’m really excited for it.”

The fan base was, too, cheering when he took the field wearing No. 35 for the first time as pregame warmups began. Rutschman’s debut was always going to be a celebration, but the days leading up to it became a point of consternation, with fans wondering why the prospect hadn’t been promoted yet. But the Orioles were long clear they would call up Rutschman when they, not anyone else, felt he was ready, a point Hyde reiterated Friday.

This had been coming since Mike Elias selected Rutschman with the first pick of the 2019 draft, his first as executive vice president and general manager of the Orioles. When Elias arrived, he vowed to create an “elite talent pipeline” to Baltimore, and Rutschman was the centerpiece of that.

For that reason, the Orioles were adamant to not rush Rutschman, especially after his tricep injury. Still, it took just 19 games in the minors this season — hitting .309/.427/.515 across three levels — before the organization felt he was ready.

Baltimore Orioles Insider

Baltimore Orioles Insider

Weekly

Want to be an Orioles Insider? The Sun has you covered. Don't miss any Orioles news, notes and info all baseball season and beyond.

“It’s hard not to have those questions about when it’s going to happen from the moment you’re drafted, when you’re in high school, wherever it is,” Rutschman said. “I think you always are looking forward to the opportunity, hoping that it happens, and the fact that it’s here now is crazy. Just trying to take it in.”

Advertisement

Rutschman caught three straight days for Triple-A Norfolk for the first time this season before his day off Friday. After the game, as the Tides watched the Orioles win a 13-inning thriller against the Tampa Bay Rays, manager Buck Britton called Rutschman into his office to break the news.

Then, after he was mobbed by several teammates, he called his parents. He tried to reach his grandfather, too, but “I think he was asleep,” Rutschman said. His parents and sister were at Camden Yards for Rutschman’s debut.

“It’s the best,” Rutschman said. “You get to have [those conversations], they’re emotional, they’re special because those are the people that have helped you get to the point you’re at and have your back more than anything.”

His family was seated behind home plate, descending on Baltimore after Saturday morning’s announcement like so many others to see the start of Rutschman’s big league career. Mancini, the longest-tenured Oriole, said Saturday marked “one of the biggest days in town in a long time,” perhaps since Baltimore last hosted a playoff baseball game in 2014.

When the Orioles first welcomed Rutschman to Baltimore, Mancini said he hoped to someday play beside him. He was finally set to do so Saturday, a day marking the next step in the Orioles’ rebuild.

“It’s not something that happens overnight, obviously,” Mancini said. “We’re gonna see more guys like Adley come up here over the next year or so, and that’s really exciting. It’s really exciting for the fans too, because I know they’ve been waiting for this day for a long time.”


Advertisement