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Baltimore Orioles

As Yankees display gap between Orioles and top of AL East, dominant minor league night shows Baltimore’s bright future | ANALYSIS

Nick Vespi has played with Adley Rutschman, so of course, on his first day in the majors, Nick Vespi was asked about Adley Rutschman.

“Adley’s awesome,” the Orioles’ rookie left-hander said. “He’s exactly what the Orioles want out of him, and I’m excited for him to be up here soon, too.”

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Vespi is not alone in that feeling. The date of Rutschman’s arrival has never officially been marked on a calendar, but it’s long been circled as the day the Orioles’ rebuild shifts, a sign that its efforts have been worthwhile.

That message, though, has been bubbling beneath Camden Yards for years, with Tuesday perhaps one of the greatest examples.

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On a night the New York Yankees handed the Orioles a fifth straight loss, many of Baltimore’s top prospects shined in the upper minors. Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson and Kyle Stowers — the Orioles’ top three picks in the 2019 draft, Mike Elias’ first as their executive vice president and general manager — all homered. Rutschman, the organization’s top prospect, and Stowers, ranked ninth by Baseball America, hit two-run shots for Triple-A Norfolk, with Rutschman’s leaving his bat at 112.6 mph while Stowers’ traveled a projected 415 feet. Henderson, fourth in the system, homered twice for Double-A Bowie, one pulled and one going the other way.

Rutschman, a catcher Baltimore took first overall in that 2019 draft, likely would have been behind the plate Tuesday in Baltimore if not for the right tricep strain he suffered as major league spring training began. Instead, he was in Charlotte, North Carolina, catching No. 2 prospect Grayson Rodriguez for the Tides. Acclaimed as the game’s top pitching prospect, the 22-year-old showed why, striking out 11 in 5 1/3 scoreless innings, getting seven swings and misses on both his changeup and slider while getting his fastball above 99 mph, according to Statcast. He threw a season-high 87 pitches, coincidentally the same number No. 8 prospect right-hander Kyle Bradish reached in his last start with Norfolk before the Orioles promoted him last month.

Bradish, though, displayed Monday that these players arriving, even if they do so in chorus, won’t suddenly make the Orioles on par with the Yankees, who have surged to the top of the American League East by winning 22 of 26 games since dropping a rubber game to Baltimore a month ago. The only of the Orioles’ top 10 prospects they’ve promoted thus far, Bradish allowed four runs and 11 base runners in 4 1/3 innings in Monday’s series opener, his fourth career start after striking out 11 St. Louis Cardinals last week. But adding more pieces from the farm system, ranked one of baseball’s best, can only help.

Rutschman’s home run was one of three balls he put in play at 99 mph or harder Tuesday; only Ryan Mountcastle, who last season set the franchise’s rookie record for home runs, has produced more hard contact in a game among Orioles major leaguers this season. In three starts with Rutschman catching him, Rodriguez has struck out 24 in 15 2/3 innings, allowing one run. No. 3 prospect DL Hall has struck out more than 40% of the batters he’s faced while climbing up the Orioles’ system, with Rutschman behind the plate for each of his four starts and potentially there again when he pitches for the Tides on Friday. Seven of Baltimore’s top nine prospects are in Double-A or higher.

That Rutschman is not already in the majors is worth questioning, though he is coming off a week in which he went 3-for-21 for Norfolk and has only once caught back-to-back days since joining an affiliate. The date in which the Orioles secure an extra year of team control based on Rutschman’s service time has already passed, though Rutschman could make that moot by arriving, living up to the hype and finishing in the top two of Rookie of the Year voting.

But he’s got to get to Baltimore first. He will at some point, and with Tuesday as evidence, there are others coming. The entirety of this rebuild, from the moment Elias promised an “elite talent pipeline” early in his tenure, has been about pointing to the future. Nights such as Tuesday show how close it is to being the present.


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