Adley Rutschman spent the past two years setting himself up to be the unquestioned top pick in the 2019 Major League Baseball draft, using the well-worn mantra of controlling what can be controlled and not worrying about much else.
With his season over and nothing left to do but wait and see whether his considerable resume and peerless talents were enough to make him the first overall pick Monday night, Rutschman didn’t have to wait long after the draft’s 7 p.m. start. He got the call from Orioles executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias to affirm all that work and what both sides hope will be a franchise-altering selection.
Rutschman, a front-runner for the Golden Spikes Award given to the nation's top college baseball player, has been called by Baseball America the best draft prospect since Bryce Harper. He assumes the role of the face of the Orioles' rebuild as the first pick made in what Elias said he hopes to build into a perennial contender built on drafting and player development.
“I'm fortunate enough to be able to do it,” Rutschman said of that responsibility. “I’m going to control what I can control and play the best that I can play and work as hard as I can. I think everything else is going to take care of itself. But, it's definitely a huge honor, and I'm looking forward to it.”
Rutschman helped the Beavers to a College World Series title in 2018 on a loaded roster that included four first-day picks, including Low-A Delmarva shortstop Cadyn Grenier. He also starred on Team USA with some of the top players in the country last summer.
All he had to do this year to solidify his status as the top prospect in the draft was keep it going at Oregon State, and he did so to the tune of a .437/.584/.772 batting line with 16 home runs and 69 walks against 36 strikeouts.
“It’s hard to know where to start with Adley Rutschman,” Elias said in a statement. “He’s a switch-hitting catcher, with power, plus he can hit from both sides with an unbelievable statistical resume. He did it with Team USA, Oregon State, and won a national championship. He’s a team leader on and off the field. He’s everything you want and he plays a premium defensive position with athleticism that gives him versatility to play elsewhere, as needed. Adley is a future fixture for this organization.
“The amount of work that’s goes into what he’s done and becoming the number one pick is not something that’s ordinary. I met Adley this winter and was immediately struck by him and impressed by his maturity and leadership. To hear the elation in his voice is really special. The No. 1 overall pick is a big decision. There are pros and cons with every player profile and every player. We like to work our way through all of that and ultimately decided for the long-range benefit of the organization that this was the right pick. We’re very excited about what this is going to do for our future.”
The top of the draft has produced several All-Star catchers over the past decade, including former Oriole Matt Wieters and 2012 National League Most Valuable Player Buster Posey. The last catcher to be selected first overall was the Minnesota Twins’ Joe Mauer, who was an All-Star six times and won the American League MVP in 2009.
What separated those catchers are some of the same qualities that have been credit to Rutschman — the ability to influence a game defensively at a position where any offense while doing that is considering a bonus. Rutschman is considered a sound receiver and thrower whose pop times to second base last summer were in the 1.9-second range, and he was credited with helping a successful Oregon State pitching staff in last year's championship run.
That’s what Rutschman said was his calling card as a defender.
“I feel like as a catcher, I work hard, and I feel like being able to control a staff is a huge part of being a catcher and being able to adapt to different pitching personalities, and finding out what each one of their strengths is,” Rutschman said. “I feel like I'm invested in the pitchers. I want each of them to succeed. I feel like that's very important and something I can be in control of when I come to the diamond.”
At the plate, he has power from both sides of the plate with an advanced approach that makes him a tough out. He struggled on Cape Cod playing with wood bats after his freshman year, but hit well with them for Team USA last summer. Elias said on 105.7 The Fan that while he’s unsure where Rutschman’s career would start, the team thought Rutschman’s bat is so special that the Orioles “have to decide how much we want him to catch going forward.”
Rutschman said he hadn’t had such discussions with the Orioles or talked with anyone about signing, but that he enjoyed his meeting with Elias. He said that was an important part of the draft process for him.
“Just having that opportunity to sit down with them and see what they're about was huge in the process, and they're very open,” Rutschman said. “I felt very fortunate to be a part of it.”
“He strikes you with his intelligence, and presence, and the thoughtfulness, which is a trait that I've seen be very important for these types of players, high draft picks,” Elias said. “He's got a good mind for the game, a good motor to him, meaning his energy level is strong. You can see that just watching him play, and you can tell why he was the captain of that team, whether it's unofficially or officially, I don't know. But he's the captain of that team and led them to the championship that they won last year. That stuff just comes through when you meet him and talk to him, and it was very impressive.”