Rutschman, No. 1 prospect, to be sidelined with triceps injury

March 16th, 2022

SARASOTA, Fla. -- The central question for the Orioles this Spring Training was whether or not Adley Rutschman, the consensus top prospect in baseball now taking part in his third consecutive big league camp, would serve as the Opening Day catcher.

It appears the decision has already been made -- for a most unfortunate reason.

Rutschman has sustained a right triceps strain, manager Brandon Hyde revealed on Wednesday morning, forcing the 24-year-old into a two- to three-week shutdown that almost assuredly eliminates his chances of making the Opening Day roster. Rutschman’s odds were already unsure in that regard, given the uncertainty with how the O’s view his development, and extreme caution will be exerted with the face of their rebuild.

“We’ll see,” Hyde said. “It’s going to be dependent on when he’s ready to go. Treatment for a couple weeks, and then he’ll have to do a progression from there, if all goes well.”

Rutschman felt the flare-up stemming from an intrasquad game with Orioles Minor Leaguers on Friday, an event that also claimed the fitness of No. 7 prospect Heston Kjerstad (who’s dealing with a hamstring strain he sustained while diving for an inside-the-park home run that Rutschman hit).

Rutschman reported elbow discomfort on Saturday, and further tests early this week revealed the triceps strain, though no structural damage was reported.

The O’s -- and Rutschman -- aren’t sure of the nature of the injury, whether it came while hitting or throwing. In any event, Hyde pointed to at least a full two weeks off from significant baseball activities, hoping to use that third week to resume Rutschman's hitting, catching and throwing progression, as well as allow him to face live pitching. He’ll receive daily treatment with head athletic trainer Brian Ebel as the organization charts his path forward.

Rutschman has been in Sarasota for an extended period of time at Minor League camp, but he has not yet faced any pitchers not wearing an Orioles uniform. Given the status of his career arc -- on the brink of a debut for what’s hoped to be a long and fruitful Baltimore tenure -- it’s expected that the O’s would give him an extended opportunity to re-cement his feet before any sort of anticipated callup.

Dually unfortunate is the groundswell Rutschman was building off, slashing .285/.397/.502 across 123 games for Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk in his first pro season in 2021 while coming off the pandemic-canceled ’20 Minor League campaign. He has earned rave reviews from every corner of the organization for handling staffs -- top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez among the group -- as well as for his work ethic and conduct as a professional.

Now, Rutschman faces the first notable injury of his professional career.

“I think it's an extremely small blip for a guy that’s going to have a long career,” Hyde said. “I'm looking forward to when he's healthy to be out there. He makes us better. We'll see. I just want him to get healthy.”

The Orioles now turn to Robinson Chirinos -- inked to a one-year deal on Monday -- to likely be their Opening Day catcher, with a more wide-open competition for the second catching spot on the roster. Jacob Nottingham and Anthony Bemboom were signed to Minor League deals this offseason, and they stand to serve as the two most likely options to back up Chirinos. Brett Cumberland, acquired from Atlanta in the 2018 Kevin Gausman trade, also stands as an internal option. All three would need to be added to the 40-man roster, which is currently full.

And all were in camp for depth to brace for the possibility of an injury like this one to Rutschman, as well as to provide him with sources of wisdom as he nears a Major League debut. Now, they can help guide him through the frustration of an injury.

Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams that call up top prospects for Opening Day can be awarded Draft-pick compensation, should such a player finish near the top in voting for their league's Rookie of the Year, Cy Young or MVP Awards. O’s executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said before Rutschman’s injury was revealed that the incentive would not play into the O’s decision-making process on the top prospect’s chances to make the big league club.

But as it stands, it’s a decision Baltimore’s top baseball official would be envious to have to make.