THE VILLAGES, Fla. — The Orioles finalized their season-opening roster Thursday, matching the 28-player group manager Brandon Hyde outlined a day earlier. It, of course, did not include catcher Adley Rutschman, baseball’s top prospect who suffered a right tricep strain just as major league spring training was getting underway.
After a multiweek shutdown period, Rutschman, 24, has progressed to hitting and throwing, but while other teams will have their young stars make their major league debuts in coming days, the Orioles will have to await Rutschman’s arrival. But executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias indicated Thursday they might not wait long once Rutschman returns to full health.
“My point of view is that he came into this camp with an inside track to make the team, and then unfortunately, he was having to be removed from the camp because he had a flare-up at the exact worst moment possible,” Elias said on a video call. “As soon as he kind of returns to being a full-activity version of himself, and we understand that his timing’s back, I think he’s gonna pick right back up where he left off, which was with a very clear shot to impact this team.”
Across 123 games between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk, Rutschman showed why he was the first overall pick in the 2019 MLB draft, batting .285/.397/.502 with 23 home runs. He entered camp as a nonroster invitee positioned to potentially be Baltimore’s starting catcher, though the question lingered over whether the Orioles would carry him even if he proved worthy of that spot.
Major League Baseball’s free-agency structure will allow the Orioles to potentially secure an extra full season of team control over Rutschman if he spends at least two weeks off the major league roster this year, which seems likely with the state of his progression. The league’s new collective bargaining agreement does allow a player who earned less than a full year of service time in his first season to be credited with one if he finishes in the top two of either the American League or National League Rookie of the Year voting.
Whenever he arrives, Rutschman will have the capability of doing that, though he’ll have to contend with a large class of other prospects who will spend the full season in the majors. With the new CBA also providing teams who have top prospects on their season-opening rosters the potential to earn extra picks, many of the players trailing Rutschman — and in the eyes of some publications, in front of him — in prospect rankings will open the year in the big leagues. Shortstop Bobby Witt Jr., drafted one pick after Rutschman in 2019, made the Kansas City Royals. Drafted first overall the next year, first baseman Spencer Torkelson broke camp with the Detroit Tigers. Outfielder Julio Rodríguez, second only to Rutschman in Baseball America’s prospect rankings, is set to debut for the Seattle Mariners.
But the Orioles likely won’t have Rutschman until late April at the earliest. Elias said earlier this week the catcher will play in minor league games sometime this month, but the organization is being understandably cautious with the face of its rebuild. But once he’s healthy and his timing against live pitching returns, Rutschman will be an Oriole.
“It really stinks that that happened, but could have been worse,” Elias said. “He’s doing well and he was here working out today and things continue to be on a smooth upward path, but we still have some benchmarks to check before sending him out to an affiliate.”
Bradish set to join Norfolk; Hall to be slow-played
After a four-inning simulated outing Thursday at the Orioles’ Twin Lakes Park complex in Sarasota, Florida, right-hander Kyle Bradish will make his next outing with Triple-A Norfolk, Elias said.
Bradish, Baltimore’s third-ranked pitching prospect, threw four scoreless innings with the Orioles this spring, pitching effectively in a pair of two-inning stints against lineups of New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies regulars.
Viewed as the top arm in the four-pitcher return the Orioles received from the Los Angeles Angels for starter Dylan Bundy in December 2019, Bradish, 25, did not allow a run in three starts with Double-A Bowie last year before struggling midseason at Norfolk. But he ended his stint there with five five-inning starts in which he had a 1.80 ERA.
Although Bradish is heading to an affiliate, Elias said the Orioles will have left-hander DL Hall continue his work in Sarasota. Ranked between top overall pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez and Bradish among Baltimore’s minor league arms, Hall, 23, pitched 31 2/3 innings in Double-A last year before being shut down with a small stress fracture in his pitching elbow. In his seven previous starts, he had a 3.13 ERA and struck out more than a third of opposing batters.
Hall made only one appearance this spring, following Bradish against the Phillies and striking out two batters while his fastball touched 100 mph in a scoreless inning. But the Orioles want to build him up progressively so that he’s available to pitch in their rotation at the end of the season as they manage his workload, with hopes of getting him into a four-to-five inning range before he either returns to Bowie or briefly joins a lower affiliate in the minors.
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“This is a little bit more of a medically tinged build-up and also much more mindful of where his innings total is going to land for him this year,” Elias said. “We’re trying to get in a position where we’re not having to shut down artificially in September or something like that, so that will be a little bit longer, but he’s looking terrific and feeling healthy.”
Baumann in the bullpen
Hyde indicated Wednesday the Orioles are considering many pitchers to start their fifth game of the year, but Elias said Thursday it won’t be No. 11 prospect Mike Baumann.
Baumann, 26, is one of eight Orioles on their first season-opening roster, having debuted last September with a handful of relief appearances. He’ll continue to work out of Baltimore’s bullpen for the start of this season, Elias said, working as a long reliever and possibly being deployed for shorter stints if needed.
Baumann’s fastball averaged 93.6 mph during his major league stint, according to Baseball Savant, but he got that pitch up to about 98 mph and was sitting at 96 mph in two Grapefruit League outings. That velocity is more in line with what he showed in 2019, when he shared the organization’s minor league Pitcher of the Year honor with Rodriguez. At the Orioles’ alternate site in 2020, he suffered a flexor strain in his right elbow, which slowed his start to the 2021 campaign.
In the latter of his appearances this spring, Baumann entered with the bases loaded and left them that way in retiring seven of eight Minnesota Twins he faced. Hyde said afterward he was the highlight of the game, coming off an appearance in which the Yankees tagged him for a pair of home runs.
“His spring stats were a little uneven, but to see his arm action and velocity return coming off of the alt site injury in 2020, finally, was a big development for us,” Elias said. “It’s time to go for him. He’s 26 1/2 or something like that, but he’s ready to do this in the major leagues, and he’s very upfront about that, and we’re ready to kind of give him the ball in the major leagues and see where it goes. He may be somebody that becomes a starter for us long term, but he’s also somebody that has the stuff to be effective out of the ’pen.”
McCoy traded for cash
The Orioles traded minor league shortstop Mason McCoy to the Mariners for cash considerations Thursday. McCoy, 27, was their sixth-round pick in 2017. A career .267/.331/.376 minor league hitter, McCoy was on Norfolk’s opening day roster but had yet to appear in a game this year for the Tides.