SARASOTA, FLA. — When the Orioles’ spring training catchers are behind the plate for live batting practice, as they were earlier this week at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, their own hitting sessions are typically squeezed in quickly after.
A change in that pattern Wednesday allowed top prospect Adley Rutschman to put on a batting practice show for executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias and manager Brandon Hyde. It was in line with what he’s shown the club that selected him first overall in camp so far: impressive.
“He’s fun to watch hit,” Hyde said. “I just like the way he swings the bat from both sides of the plate. He’s got huge power. I like the setup. He’s got a chance to hit for average and power. It’s a very simple swing, very strong. The ball flies off his bat. So, he’s fun to watch in BP for sure.”
That assessment extends to what Rutschman has done catching the Orioles’ young pitchers, as well. Overall, he’s crafted an image as a young player who’s making a strong impression on the team’s decision-makers.
“I’ve been really impressed,” Hyde said. “He’s come here and he’s not been afraid. He’s vocal. He’s learned. He’s creating good relationships with guys — I know the players really like him. I know they like throwing to him. He’s communicating really well for a guy in this first big league camp, he’s never really played a full season, and he’s come here like he belongs. He’s done everything really well, just from his defensive work to his communication to how he’s swinging the bat in BP, it’s been fantastic.”
While Rutschman, a nonroster invitee who was drafted last June and only reached Low-A Delmarva, isn’t a candidate to make the Orioles’ Opening Day roster, this time with major leaguers is vital for him to get accustomed to expectations. He said it’s been “awesome” to work every day in Sarasota, considering this time last year he was a college star working toward playing professionally.
“It’s a completely different thing," Rutschman said. “We haven’t gotten into our season obviously yet, but so far the days have been a little longer, start a little earlier than in college. It’s a format that a lot of the guys who come back [to Oregon State], like Trevor Larnach and Nick Madrigal, they talked about kind of how spring training was going to work, so I felt like I was mentally more prepared coming in.”
That mentality has prepared Rutschman to make a good impression on his teammates as well. What began as a curiosity about the Orioles’ top prospect has grown into admiration, even as he’s spending more time working with younger pitchers in camp than the older ones.
“We’ve spent time together,” reliever Richard Bleier said. “I think he’s extremely mature for his age. Big kid. I think he looks like he’s the real deal. I saw him hit last year in Camden when he came up and they announced him and he was hitting balls off the Warehouse, so he’s got a bright future ahead of him for sure.”
Considering the amount of homework the Orioles did on Rutschman and his reputation as a person and teammate when he was drafted in June, Hyde believes what he’s showing his teammates is real.
“There’s no fake,” Hyde said. “He’s not doing anything for showboating reasons. He cares. He wants to get better, and I think the guys that have thrown to him, I’ve talked to a couple and they’ve been really impressed with his feedback to them at the end of a side session. He sees the game really well. He’s pretty polished.”
The daily work for the Orioles’ catchers means their days are longer than anyone else’s in camp, as they train individually as well as with the pitchers. Hyde said Rutschman will get some playing time when games begin Saturday, but not a ton. There will be no complaints from Rutschman, though, who is trying to enjoy every day he gets to spend in major league camp.
“It’s awesome,” Rutschman said. “We’re still in the first couple weeks. I mean, shoot, if it’s a grind right now I feel bad for you. But it’s going well so far, and I’m excited to come to the field every day.”
Orioles claim Velazquez
The Orioles shuffled a recent waiver claim off their roster in favor of a new one Wednesday, claiming infielder Andrew Velazquez off waivers from the Cleveland Indians and designating Richard Ureña for assignment.
Velazquez, 25, made his major league debut Sept. 2, 2018, with the Tampa Bay Rays but was traded to Cleveland last year. He hit .300 with an .854 OPS in 55 minor league games over three levels, but hit .086 with a .299 OPS in 15 major league games between the Rays and Indians.
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Most of Velazquez’s defensive playing time came in center field in 2019, but he can also play second base, third base and shortstop.