Adley Rutschman: O’s fans are ready
Last season, because of the COVID-19 crisis, Major League Baseball was reduced to a 60-game regular season schedule, and minor league baseball went dark for the entire season.
Not the best of situations for those players in the infancy stages of their baseball careers.
But for some minor leaguers the void of actual games was not to be an impediment. Such was the case for Adley Rutschman, who was determined to make the most of his 2020 minor league season.
Rutschman, the overall No. 1 pick in the 2019 major league draft by the Baltimore Orioles, spent the entire summer on the Orioles’ 60-man roster. Rutschman trained with the minor-league assembly of players in Bowie, a mere 30-minute drive from Camden Yards.
Fast forward to the summer of 2021, and Rutschman finds himself with the Bowie Bay Sox, the Orioles’ Double-A affiliate’ along with an impressive group of other highly-rated minor league prospects.
Tuesday evening, Rutschman and the Bay Sox were in Richmond to open a six-game stand against the Flying Squirrels.
Ninety minutes before game time, the gates around the Diamond were already crowded with fans, many of whom were sporting Orioles’ gear to get a glimpse of Rutschman and cast.
Rutschman, a 6-2, 215-pound switch-hitting catcher, easily stood out from most of the other players on the field, not only in his size, but also the seriousness and determination in which he progressed through his pre-game workouts.
An hour before game time, and Rutschman was out stretching and running in the mid-90s heat – in long sleeves and ankle and wrist weights. When strolling down the left field foul line to begin his workout routine, Rutschman did not stop to talk or sign autographs to several hundred fans, instead saying “after the game, guys, I’ve got my work to do.”
And did he ever. Some Bay Sox players joined Rutschman during his pre-game conditioning, but no one player stayed involved more than about 10 minutes.
Ted Owens and his 12-year-old son, Chris, made the trip down Interstate 95 from Fredericksburg to watch what he hopes will be the crux of the next Oriole contending team.
“It’s worth the price of admission just to watch Adley go through his pre-game conditioning routine,” Owens said.
Owens, a life-long Orioles fan, says he never remembers a minor leaguer garnering as much praise and anticipation as Rutschman.
“I’ve seen Cal (Ripken), Matt Weiters, and other Oriole players who went on to the majors, but no one has had the hype as this kid,” praised Owens.
The game was almost an afterthought. Bowie used the long ball (three home runs) and outstanding pitching and defense to defeat Richmond 6-1. Rutschman was 1-for-3 at the plate, scoring twice. Behind the plate, the threat of his overpowering arm didn’t give the Flying Squirrels much to think about in terms of stealing a base.
After the game Rutschman didn’t disappoint his followers and signed autographs. He also took the time to answer some questions about his journey through the minor leagues in route to Baltimore.
“It’s good to be playing games. Last season went about as good as it could have,” said Rutschman about his 2021 season.
What’s the difference in playing games in 2021 rather than the “boot-camp” mentality of 2020?
“Oh, that’s easy, it’s good to be around this level of competition and observe how guys do their work on a daily basis,” Rutschman said.
Rutschman did get a taste of professional ball after the 2019 draft, hitting .254 with four homers and 37 RBIs in just under 40 games at the low minor league level.
Rutschman led Oregon State to the 2018 College World Series title, earning MVP honors as well. Rutschman was also the 2018 consensus National Player of the Year.
The biggest adjustment from college to the professionals?
“Easy, calling the pitches” said Rutschman. In college, the pitching coach is usually assigned the duties of pitch selection, relaying the pitch calls through the catcher to the pitcher.
In the pro ranks, the catcher calls the game on his own.
“Here, you go on scouting reports and your instincts,” said Adley.
For a catcher, that makes the game a great deal more intellectual, which for Rutschman makes the game more fun.
“It makes the game a great deal more challenging,” he said. “Each pitcher has a different way to throw to batters. Makes catching more fun, but definitely more of a challenge.”
Now in year three of his minor league journey, Rutschman may be on the threshold of even more challenges. As the No. 1-rated prospect in 2018, Rutschman signed a record-setting $8.1 million bonus to sign – the largest in MLB history.
Many anticipated a call-up to Baltimore last season, but the Orioles, not at the point where they’ll contend for the postseason, have chosen to be patient with their top prospect.
Minor leaguers are protected through seven years. Baltimore is also trying to balance the options of whether to keep Rutschman in the minors or questioning as to when to start his clock toward free agency.
MLB players are eligible for free agent status after accruing six full years of service time. The longer a team suppresses the start of a player’s service time, the longer the parent club can lock up his services.
The real clock, the Adley Rutschman to Baltimore clock, is quickly ticking down on Rutschman and the Orioles.
For Oriole fans like Ted Owens, that should be any day now.
“He’s ready, I know the fans are ready, his No. 35 is already the most widely seen jersey at the Yard,” said Owens.
Tuesday night in Richmond, over 6,000 fans had the opportunity to see Rutschman in the flesh – and he didn’t disappoint.
Hopefully in a few weeks, his major league career will be on full display, about 150 miles north in Charm City. After all, playing at The Diamond is fine, but playing in Oriole Park at Camden Yards is The Show.
Story by Scott German