The Orioles introduce their first round draft pick catcher Adley Rutschman, who was the No. 1 overall pick. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun video)
Des Verley, like most athletes, carries regrets when it comes to his athletic career. Among those was bypassing the chance to play for legendary coach Ad Rutschman at Linfield College in Oregon and instead heading to rival Pacific University.
Verley mentioned it from time to time to his son, Brandon. The Rutschman name carried great weight in the Pacific Northwest, so when Brandon Verley heard it as the surname of a rising high school freshman early in his tenure as an Orioles scout, he took note.
Nearly a decade later, and almost half a century since his father headed to Pacific, Verley sat behind the Rutschman family Tuesday in the auxiliary clubhouse at Camden Yards as the Orioles introduced Adley Rutschman, the Oregon State catcher they made the second No. 1 overall pick in franchise history. Verley, a native of Washington state who has been the Orioles’ Northwest scout since 2010, had the honor of vouching for Ad Rutschman’s grandson to be the first top pick from that region since Dave Roberts in 1972.
“It’s a dream come true to not only be able to scout Adley but have a chance to be picking [first overall] and get him,” Verley said. “Most scouts go their whole careers without having this opportunity.
“Easiest decision to be able to say yes to a player like that. … Put anything in that kid's hand, he's going to hit the ball. You give him a toothpick, he'll figure out how to hit.”
Although Verley was aware of Adley beforehand, he didn’t start fully scouting the young backstop until the summer before his senior year at Sherwood High School in Oregon. The Seattle Mariners drafted Adley in the 40th round in 2016, but he headed to Corvallis, Ore., fittingly as a two-sport athlete.
Ad Rutschman coached Linfield to national titles in both football and baseball, the only coach to do so at any level. His son, Randy, was a member of the 1971 baseball team that won a championship. Although Ad, 87, wasn’t in Baltimore for his grandson’s introduction, Randy and his wife, Carol, and daughter, Josie, couldn’t stop gleaming while watching Adley’s first moments in an Orioles jersey.
Seated beside executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias, Adley steadily spoke about his introduction to the organization, but Randy had to literally pinch himself. He’s met many on the West Coast who have named their children Camden after the Orioles’ ballpark. To be there this week because his son was Baltimore’s No. 1 overall pick was overwhelming.
“I walked out on the field yesterday, and it was just emotional,” Randy said. “We weren’t expecting this five, six years ago.”
That’s partly because Adley didn’t participate in many showcases, though he frequented Oregon State’s camps because Randy, an assistant coach at George Fox University, worked at them. It didn’t help that his falls were committed to football, including his first with the Beavers.
A kicker for Oregon State’s football team in 2016, his switch-hitting bat slumped the following spring. He had a .234 average, but he was locked in behind the plate for a College World Series team.
“He had no life his freshman year,” Randy said.
Adley focused on baseball his next two years, earning College World Series Most Outstanding Player honors on the Beavers’ national championship team his sophomore year while hitting .408/.505/.628.
Despite the pressure that came with the building belief he was baseball’s top amateur, Adley was better as a junior. He capped his collegiate career winning practically every award available, including the Golden Spikes Award and Dick Howser Trophy, after hitting .411/.575/.751 with 17 home runs and 76 walks to 38 strikeouts.
“Once he put the football down his freshman year, I think he really took off like a rocket,” Verley said. “I know all the accolades he's already accumulated, but he just quit playing football two years ago. He's still got more upside to bring, the way he goes about it and the way that other players and everybody’s attracted to him and wants to do whatever he's doing because it's made him who he is. It’ll be special to see.”
Verley spoke with many of Adley’s former Oregon State teammates in the lead-up to the draft, including Cadyn Grenier, who the Orioles selected 37th overall last year with Verley as the signing scout, as well as 2018 first-round picks Nick Madrigal and Trevor Larnach. Their respect for Adley was immediately apparent.
The same attributes that made him admirable to teammates — “the presence, the energy level, the big smile” — enticed Verley.
“He was Captain America,” Verley said. “He was the guy that they all looked at.
“Watching all these players as a scout, there are certain guys that you just can't take your eye off right away and just how they move around and how they go about it and how they run to their positions. Everything that he did, you just can't stop noticing.”
Despite being focused on Adley, Verley still found time to build a bond with his family, enough so that they welcomed him into photos before and after his introductory news conference.
“Brandon is so personable, loved to talk to me and my mom during the games,” Josie said. “Obviously, he had work to do there, but he really made it about connecting with the family.
“I was rooting for the Orioles the whole time.”
Adley remained calm in the face of all that came his way this week: his first trip to Baltimore, signing for a record $8.1 million bonus, an introduction to the fans at Camden Yards, many of whom already revere him as the face of the team’s rebuild.
“He’s gonna have a ton of loyalty because the Orioles believed in him,” Randy said. “He’s gonna have that, ‘I wanna make this thing good. I wanna do what I can to make it better.’ ”
Randy said Adley has outdone the rest of the family in handling the attention that has hovered over them since last summer’s projections hailing him as the next top pick, but he admitted there have been times his son has had to pinch himself, too.
It’s just not often he’s put those feelings on public display, often doing so among only his family. Josie, who recently wrapped up her freshman year studying exercise science at Linfield, said her brother has a great sense of humor, though, and he doesn’t shy from that. He showed it Tuesday when asked if he had any big purchases planned after signing.
“I’m pretty comfortable with my Honda Civic,” he quipped.
The Orioles feel the same way about their choice to make him the No. 1 pick, though it was a decision even Verley didn’t know “until we made the selection, basically.” After years of scouting what he knew was a top talent and a spring knowing his organization had the pick to grab him, waiting was “nerve-wracking.”
“There's lots of guys that think he could play there right now,” Verley said. “And I think you could put him there right now if you wanted. Obviously, the learning curve would be a little tougher than if he was to climb, but as quickly as Mike and the guys at the top are ready to get him in there, I think he's going to be ready to answer the call.”