Buck Britton, manager of the Double-A Bowie Baysox and the Orioles’ 2021 recipient of the Cal Ripken Sr. Player Development Award, was quick to deflect to his coaching staff when discussing his honor Tuesday at Camden Yards.
He also noted that the best way to be a good coach is to hang around the best players — and he spent Tuesday with three of them as Adley Rutschman and Kyle Stowers were honored as the co-Brooks Robinson Minor League Players of the Year and Grayson Rodriguez was honored for the second time in as many seasons as the Jim Palmer Minor League Pitcher of the Year.
“You’re talking about elite players at the top, but this system as a whole has gotten a lot better. The influx of talent just in the last couple of years has been incredible,” Britton said. “To have these guys at the top, I think they’re going to represent that next wave that gets here and hopefully fit in with the guys that are playing here and hopefully, this thing turns around pretty quick.”
Rutschman and Stowers both spent most of this season at Bowie under Britton, but are finishing the year at Triple-A Norfolk. Rutschman, the 2019 No. 1 overall pick and the game’s top prospect, is batting .286 with a .912 OPS and 23 home runs over two levels. Stowers, who was the Orioles’ third pick that year, is batting .283 with a .914 OPS and 27 home runs over three levels, having started at High-A Aberdeen.
For those two and Rodriguez, who dominated to the tune of a 2.36 ERA with a 0.83 WHIP and 161 strikeouts in 103 innings between Aberdeen and Bowie, the honors were a reward for a season that went well all across the Orioles’ farm but were particularly strong for them.
Rodriguez, noting that he wished he and Bowie could have won the Double-A Northeast title, said it otherwise went “even better than we could have asked for.”
“I was extremely excited,” Rodriguez said. “Obviously anything with Jim Palmer’s name on it is a pretty high achievement. Being able to share that award with Mike Baumann in 2019 was very special, especially after my first full season. Then this year, again, getting the award alone, that’s truly special.”
There was no lamenting sharing the award for Rutschman and Stowers, who entered the organization together and have grown close in the last two-plus years.
“It means a lot,” Stowers said. “I think any validation of the work you put in is super special, and I think to win it alongside Adley, who’s one of my best friends and someone I just love playing the game with and I love being around, I think that makes it even more special, to share it with him.”
Rutschman echoed that.
“Me and Kyle are super close and to have an opportunity to play with him again, for the first time since 2019, it’s a blessing,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of fun this year and it’s great to be able to share this with him.”
Stowers has matched Rutschman’s performance throughout the season, an impressive feat considering the Orioles’ top prospect had plenty of hype to live up to and has more than done so.
Brandon Verley, the scout who signed Rutschman, was named the Orioles’ Jim Russo Scout of the Year and honored Tuesday as well. He said Rutschman’s ascent has been exactly what the Orioles projected.
“I think he’s done everything that we hoped and thought that he would, not only on the field but off the field,” Verley said. “Just the person he is, the leader, doing all the little things still that he does, just being himself. He’s such a genuine person that it’s really awesome to have him being so successful and seeing him doing everything that we hoped that he would do. So, definitely not surprised, but happy for him.”
It wasn’t lost on any of the players that the next time they’re at Camden Yards, it will be when they’re big leaguers, as soon as next year.
Latest Baltimore Orioles
“Obviously the dream is to pitch in Camden Yards,” Rodriguez said. “It’s been like that ever since I was drafted by the Orioles, and that’s pretty special to think about.”