SARASOTA, Fla. — Top Orioles prospect Adley Rutschman will be shut down for two to three weeks with a tricep strain, potentially answering the biggest question of spring training before exhibition games even begin.
With little more than three weeks until Opening Day, it’s unlikely Rutschman, baseball’s top overall prospect and the catcher who serves as the face of Baltimore’s rebuild, will have enough time to be ready to break camp with the Orioles for April 8′s season opener against the Tampa Bay Rays.
“I think it’s an extremely small blip for a guy that’s gonna have a long career,” manager Brandon Hyde said Wednesday morning. “I’m looking forward to when he’s healthy to be out there. I think, yeah, he makes us better, and we’ll see. I just want him to get healthy.”
Rutschman, 24, played in a minor league intrasquad game Friday — during which outfield prospect Heston Kjerstad pulled a hamstring chasing down what became a Rutschman inside-the-park home run — and woke Saturday with soreness. Hyde said Rutschman was unsure whether swinging or throwing caused the injury. After major league camp began with workouts Monday, the Orioles gave him rest hoping it would improve, but tests revealed the strain.
Rutschman will be meeting with athletic trainer Brian Ebel going forward, undergoing a rest period before beginning a progression to return. He participated in club minicamps throughout the offseason and was at minor league spring training before the start of major league camp, but the layoff will largely reset Rutschman’s readiness for the 2022 season.
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“He’s gonna be out a few weeks,” Hyde said.
With Rutschman doubtful for the Opening Day roster and potentially beyond, the injury likely takes the biggest roster decision of the spring out of the Orioles’ hands. Rutschman hit .285/.397/.502 with 23 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A, playing in practically every game at either catcher, first base or designated hitter. After the Orioles drafted Rutschman first overall out of Oregon State in 2019, the start of his professional career was slightly delayed as he dealt with a case of mononucleosis, but he otherwise has dealt with no ailments during his time in the organization until now.
This one could have a significant on the Orioles’ present and future. If Rutschman is in the minors for about two weeks, he possibly wouldn’t become a free agent until after the 2028 season, rather than 2027. If Rutschman returns, reaches the majors and finishes in the top two of voting for American League Rookie of the Year, he would still be credited with a full year of service time, per Major League Baseball’s new collective bargaining agreement.
Rutschman not being on the roster would also prevent the Orioles from the potential to earn extra draft picks by having a top prospect open the year with the major league team, also a part of the new CBA. Monday, executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said the league’s new rules would have no impact on the Orioles’ decision with Rutschman.
“He’s in major league camp,” Elias said. “He’s one of the brightest talents in the minor leagues, in the sport. He’s been through a lot the past couple of years like everybody. I think if you’re in major league camp, you’ve got a shot to break with us. When you’re not on the 40-man roster, it’s oftentimes different than the guys that already are on the 40-man roster. But I’m really looking forward to seeing what he’s going to do. We’ll see what group of catchers we really finish here in terms of putting together for our camp here soon, but it’s gonna be exciting watching him.”
With Rutschman absent, veteran Robinson Chirinos, who signed a one-year deal Monday, is penciled in as the Opening Day catcher. With Chirinos the only catcher on their 40-man roster, the Orioles will need to add another before beginning the regular season. The other catchers in camp are Anthony Bemboom, Jacob Nottingham, Brett Cumberland, Maverick Handley and Cody Roberts, though Hyde said it’s possible Baltimore adds more backstops. Bemboom and Nottingham both signed minor league deals this offseason and have major league experience.
“This is a part of the game,” Hyde said. “Guys are going to go down throughout the course of the spring and the course of the season, and it’s going to always give opportunity to other guys.”