What we've learned from 1 week of Rutschmania

May 29th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Zachary Silver's Orioles Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Soon there will be a time when every swing from Adley Rutschman isn't met with as much hopeful excitement, where every nick from a foul tip isn't joined by as much collective breath-holding, where, as he put it, every game he participates in will feel more like that “normal, everyday team aspect.”

Now is not quite yet that time.

Rutschman is indeed settling in, earning praise from across his clubhouse for how he’s handled both himself and the pressures a week into what Baltimore hopes is a long and fruitful career. There are growing pains, as any young prospect will endure, but there are also few individuals as able to bear the load Rutschman is withstanding, according to his teammates.

“He's the real deal in every sense of who he is,” fellow prospect Kyle Stowers said this week. “You can just start with his performance on the field as a catcher and everything off the field. He's just so steady, same guy every day.”

Here are three things we’ve learned through one week of Rutschmania:

1) His energy is real

The arrival of Rutschman was a shot in the Orioles’ proverbial arm, not just because of the signal it sent -- that the phasers are slowly being turned towards competitiveness -- but because of Rutschman’s vibrancy.

A limited number of pitchers on the O’s roster have thrown to Rutschman before, unaided by his lack of availability in Spring Training due to his right-triceps strain. So, when he rushes out to meet a pitcher at the foul line for a first bump upon the last out of an inning, something he’s long done in his time playing baseball, it’s an enthusiasm they’re seeing for the first time in person.

“Honestly, it’s kind of a nice touch,” starter Tyler Wells told reporters in New York this week. “It definitely builds that bond between a pitcher and catcher.”

It’s one moment that captures the essence of Rutschman. For as much as he’s seemed like a known entity, there’s still much being uncovered. One week of games has been just a taste.

“Just how humble he is,” Robinson Chirinos, thrust into the role of Rutschman’s mentor, said in New York. “I mean, number one prospect in the Minor Leagues, [and] he's not having that with him. He wants to get better and he's asking the questions. He came to me today asking me how we attacked them in the past, and he wants to learn. That's the only thing you ask for a young player in the league, willing to listen to people that have been here, have done it before. And he's doing that. That's cool to watch.”

2) He exudes patience

That goes two ways. The first, how long he waited to make his debut -- at 24 years old and almost three years after being drafted, already at the time seen with near-pro-ready talent. Rutschman saw Bobby Witt Jr., taken one pick behind him as a high schooler, and Spencer Torkelson, first overall the year after him, debut before he did this Opening Day.

And wouldn’t you know that Rutschman is over eight months older than Juan Soto?

But the other aspect of his patience may be more important.

Among batters with at least 25 plate appearances entering play on Saturday, only one is seeing more pitches on average than Rutschman. That happens to be another rookie in Cardinals utility man Brendan Donovan (4.65 pitches per plate appearance), but Rutschman is right there, at 4.63.

Anthony Santander and Trey Mancini are the only qualified Orioles seeing more than four pitches per plate appearance; Santander’s 4.33 mark before Saturday was tied for sixth in baseball.

“Adley is somebody that's always seen a lot of pitches in the Minor Leagues, always walked,” said Orioles manager Brandon Hyde. “We've seen the ability to foul off pitches in Spring Training, also. But you never know until you get here. I thought he was going to be a little jumpy and overexcited. His at-bats have been really good. He's seeing a ton of pitches every at-bat, he's ready to hit, he's laying off pitches outside the strike zone right now. The numbers are going to be there because of all that.”

Take last Sunday’s game -- the rain-soaked walk-off over the Rays -- for example. Against the backdrop of moving from designated hitter to catcher due to late-game shifting, Rutschman saw 29 pitches across his five plate appearances. He whiffed at just one. In his last at-bat, winning run at third base, he saw five pitches, all changeups, as part of the 11 changeups he saw on the afternoon.

He sent the last one 100.1 mph to the warning track in right field, body slanted as if to try to will the ball out of the ballpark.

“That's part of the process of being a young Major League player, of constantly having to make adjustments to what teams are trying to do to you,” Hyde said. “Once you start having success, then [opponents] try something else, and then you got to make [adjustments]. They're going to go through those sort of growing pains, like everybody does, but I'm really impressed with his at-bats so far."

3) He’s just getting started

Upon arrival at Fenway Park on Friday, a small group of Orioles congregated by Rutschman’s locker. On their docket, before a sensational come-from-behind win over the Red Sox, was entering the Green Monster and gracing one of its hallowed stanchions with their autographs, a tradition for visiting ballplayers. 

It was one of those pinch-me moments for Rutschman, who was joined by Kyle Bradish, Ryan Mountcastle, Bryan Baker and others, and an instance that further entrenches him as a bonafide Major Leaguer. There are several more important career firsts awaiting him. Chief among the list: his first homer (and his first double), his first RBI, his first base-stealer thrown out and his first shutout commandeered.

 It’ll all come in due time. It’s a good thing he’s patient.

“He deals with, I mean, a pressure, if you will -- obviously a lot of us don't love to use that word,” Stowers said. “But, I mean, he just handles things, his business, so well. Being the face of the rebuild, you wouldn't know that he is the first overall pick unless you already knew who Adley Rutschman was. He doesn't give off that vibe. He just is another guy that wants to work his butt off, be the best player he can be. And then off the field, he's one of my best friends. I really enjoy being around him, and I learn so much from him as a person and player.”