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Top prospect lists put Orioles’ Adley Rutschman in position to potentially be next year’s No. 1

Adley Rutschman will embark on his first full season in the Orioles’ organization as the No. 1 prospect in the farm system. His second could see him be the top prospect in baseball.

Given how the latest rankings fell and who was ahead of him, Rutschman could be the game’s best-regarded prospect by this time next year. Baltimore’s selection with the first overall pick in the 2019 draft, Rutschman was No. 5 in Baseball America’s rankings and No. 4 in MLB Pipeline’s, both released last week, with each entity naming him baseball’s top catching prospect.

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First in both rankings is Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Wander Franco, with Los Angeles Dodgers infielder Gavin Lux (No. 2 by MLB Pipeline and No. 4 by Baseball America) and Chicago White Sox outfielder Luis Robert (No. 3/No. 2) also ahead of Rutschman on each list. Baseball America has Los Angeles Angels outfielder Jo Adell third, while he ranks sixth with MLB Pipeline, with San Diego Padres left-hander MacKenzie Gore fifth.

Despite rapidly moving through three levels in 2019, Rutschman, who turns 22 next week, will likely receive a slower pace in his first full season with the Orioles, which figures to begin with High-A Frederick. But all of the players ahead of Rutschman on either list are expected to play in the majors at some point in 2020. Lux made his debut last year, hitting his first career home run against the Orioles, and should play a heavy role in the Dodgers’ plans this year. Robert, who posted a 30-30 season (32 home runs, 36 steals) across three minor league levels last years, has signed a long-term deal with Chicago that effectively assures him a spot on the team’s Opening Day roster. Adell is not far from flanking Mike Trout in the Angels’ outfield, while Gore’s chances to hop Rutschman in either set of rankings should fade soon after he joins the Padres’ rotation in 2020.

Franco might present the biggest hurdle to Rutschman’s ascension, for the 18-year-old has yet to play above High-A. He could get a late-season promotion to the majors if the Rays are in playoff contention, but the question then becomes whether he gets the needed 130 at-bats to surpass prospect eligibility requirements.

If he does so, Rutschman would be left as the highest-ranked prospect standing, and should he live up to the expectations that he’s carried for most of the past year and a half, it shouldn’t be difficult for him to rise to the top of most prospect lists.

After earning College World Series Most Outstanding Player honors as a sophomore at Oregon State, Rutschman established himself as the draft’s top available player with Team USA that summer. The switch-hitter collected every major amateur award available as a junior, batting .411/.575/.751 while walking twice as often as he struck out.

A bout of mononucleosis delayed his debut after receiving a record $8.1 million from the Orioles after they made him the second No. 1 overall pick in franchise history. Rutschman homered in his first professional game for Baltimore’s Gulf Coast League affiliate and soon headed to short-season Aberdeen, ending his tenure there with a 10-game hitting streak during which he slashed .462/.521/.744 and caught a combined no-hitter. He joined Low-A Delmarva for its playoff run to end a whirlwind year.

Another starts soon, with Rutschman slated to be among the Orioles’ nonroster invitees to major league spring training before heading off to an affiliate with the chance to rise into Baltimore’s first No. 1 overall prospect since Matt Wieters, a switch-hitting catcher like Rutschman, in 2009. Should Franco or another prospect cause Rutschman to be slotted second, he would be the first Orioles farmhand to rank that high since Dylan Bundy heading into the 2013 season.

Right-hander Grayson Rodriguez and left-hander DL Hall, Rutschman’s two most recent predecessors as the Orioles’ first-round picks, joined him in both rankings, with Rodriguez 35th on Baseball America’s list and 36th on MLB Pipeline’s, while Hall was 47th and 69th, respectively. Ryan Mountcastle, unranked by Baseball America, came in at No. 94 with MLB Pipeline.

All but Mountcastle figure to retain their eligibility into next year’s rankings, with the Orioles likely to add another top talent with the No. 2 pick in the 2020 draft; shortstop Bobby Witt Jr., whom Kansas City selected one spot after the Orioles took Rutschman, is in the top 25 of both rankings.

Rutschman, though, could be right at the top.

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