A week after the Orioles crowned him the top pick in the MLB draft, Adley Rutschman was back in Corvallis, Ore., finishing up his final exams and wrapping up what's left of his junior year before presumably signing with the Orioles and starting his professional career.
Making it through this past season — which began with high expectations after his star turn at the 2018 College World Series — was perhaps just as hard as what lies ahead for Rutschman, who will be asked to be the face of an Orioles rebuild that's short on excitement.
The way he handled the pressure of being the nation’s top amateur prospect, however, and possibly exceeding expectations, is one of several factors that made him a prime candidate for such responsibilities once he joins the Orioles' organization.
"He would once in a while say, 'Gee Dad,' and I'm thinking, there's a lot of pressure out there," his father, Randy Rutschman, said. "He said, 'Dad, there's times where I just kind of stop out there and want to enjoy the moment. This is so cool.'
"I think he has a very good perspective on playing the game. I think it's always helped him. He's always been pretty good in tough situations, and I think instead of looking at it, 'Oh crud, what if I don't perform?' I think he always looked at it as, 'God, this is great. Can you imagine how much excitement this is?' Pressure has two sides to it. You have the fear of failure, and the excitement of success. I think he just focuses on the top side. I think it helps him."
On a team full of first-day picks, including infielders Nick Madrigal and Cadyn Grenier, as well as outfielder Trevor Larnach, Rutschman's standout play at last year's College World Series stood out in the context of a bunch of players who were about to be drafted high. But all those players were eligible to be drafted last summer, and were.
Rutschman — who had 17 hits and drove in 13 runs in the 2018 College World Series — was a sophomore with a whole year of scrutiny ahead of him: a spot on the United States Collegiate National Team, sky-high expectations in Corvallis and all the attention that comes with the possibility of being the first overall pick.
It began in the two days he had at home between that College World Series win in Omaha, Neb., and joining the national team in North Carolina.
"He was on the couch and he said, 'Dad, I'm going to need about four hours here because I've got to get back to people.' He spent four hours trying to get back to people,” Randy Rutschman said. “I think that was one of his more daunting exercises. Then, [there was] a lot of noise going on as he left and started getting into the fall. A lot of noise out there, a lot of stuff out there, and it's hard to avoid it. He was getting that attention early, guys saying [he’d be the first overall pick] and whatnot."
"I think he had an idea," Strohmaier said. "I don't think he really foresaw it playing out the way it did. I think he's always had the dream of playing major league baseball and I don't know if that dream included the No. 1 pick, and that's really kind of what I texted him the other day.
“I was obviously super proud of him for what he's accomplished as a baseball player, but I said my biggest thing I was most impressed with was how he's handled the spotlight this year and all the pressure that goes with being the College World Series MVP and turning around and having an even better year this year."
Having a better year than his 2018 — when he hit .408/.505/.628 while setting school records for hits (102) and RBIs (83) — was always going to be a tall order. He did, in a sense, because he didn't press to do so.
"The biggest thing going into this year that we talked about for the season is you're going to get thrown around a lot, so you've just got to be patient, take your walks when you get your walks, and when you get good pitches to hit, don't miss them," Oregon State interim coach Pat Bailey said. "I think he, overall, did a really good job with that."
"I was thinking, 'Shoot, I'll be happy if he hits .280 this year,’ " Randy Rutschman said. "He had these expectations that, 'I'm going to be better this year, we're going to go to Omaha,' and I was most concerned about his own expectations and not meeting those and realizing that can be a frustrating thing.
"There was a lot of attention, a lot of noise, and he had really high expectations for himself. I actually thought that could be the thing that really becomes extremely frustrating for him, but he ended up having a really good year considering all that."
That really good year was, in some ways, better than the one that preceded it. He walked 23 more times than last year in 10 fewer games, but still hit .411/.575/.751 with 17 home runs.
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And the reasons why were exactly what he told his father.
"We talked earlier this year, and I was like, 'How's the season going? How are you feeling?' " said his high school travel team coach, Joe Taylor. "And he said, 'I'm just having the most fun I've ever had playing baseball.' There was no indication that he was feeling any pressure. He was just out there playing the game and just dominating the competition.
"The stresses aren't there because he's still out just playing the game. I don't see that changing. He's been at the highest level that he could at the college and with USA baseball, and he was the same guy. I don't see how that would change moving to the next level."
"He doesn't get tight in big moments," said Paul Mainieri, who coached the national team last summer and is the head coach at LSU. "He's very calm and cool and collected, and you can tell he's got a lot of self-confidence. For me, this is a can't-miss kid. If I've ever seen a player in my entire life to bet the house on and be very, very successful at the major league level, it's this young man."