SARASOTA, Fla. -- Last year, Adley Rutschman’s first spring in Major League camp was mainly limited to batting practice shows he put on out on the backfields. This time around, the Orioles are giving their No.1 prospect a longer look.
Rutschman has appeared in three of the O’s first seven Grapefruit League games through Saturday, when he went 1-for-3 with a walk in the Orioles' 6-5 loss to the Tigers at Ed Smith Stadium. Though the results have been hard to come by thus far for Rutschman — he’s 2-for-8 with a single, double and two walks -- he’s relishing the experience.
What does it mean for his 2021 outlook?
“Whenever people ask me when I think I should debut, what my timeline is or what I think it should be, for me it’s always going to be the same -- I’m going to control what I can control,” said Rutschman, the No.2 overall prospect in baseball, per MLB Pipeline. “I’d like to think I can compete at any level because of who I am. I’d like to think I’m a competitive person and can do those things. But I don’t really know what my timeline looks like.”
Asked about his goals this spring, Rutschman said “I’m just here to play baseball and get better every day.”
To that end, the Orioles are providing him more bandwidth than ever before in terms of in-game reps. The bulk have come at designated hitter, though the O’s have also found spots for to get his feet wet defensively.
Take, for example, Tuesday’s 4-2 loss to the Yankees, when Rutschman was tasked with catching knuckleballer Mickey Jannis and flame-throwing Tanner Scott in consecutive innings. He’s earned compliments for his polish behind the plate, with manager Brandon Hyde calling him “very mature beyond his years.”
“Last year was his first Spring Training and I just wanted him to enjoy the experience,” Hyde said. “This is his second full year and he’s getting more time. I’m trying to find at-bats for him, because he missed the year last year and I just want to see him play. I think he needs to get ABs, as many as he possibly can.”
Had the coronavirus pandemic not cancelled the 2020 Minor League season, Rutschman would likely be knocking more loudly on the big league door. As it stands, Rutschman reached Class A Delmarva his Draft summer and spent 2020 at the Orioles’ alternate site in Bowie, Md., refining the skills that made him the No.1 overall pick in 2019 in a controlled environment. He is not a candidate to crack the O’s Opening Day roster, and will most likely open 2021 at Double-A Bowie.
The expectation, though, is that Rutschman, 23, can rise quickly.
“I think the alternate site helped quite a bit,” Rutschman said. “Just being able to get those three months in of work, facing pitchers live again and being able to catch some of the guys over there helped a lot. So as far as that goes, I’d like to think that some of the stuff we’re trying to do as far as pitch-calling, controlling the game and just having those three months of being able to work on my swing and what-not, I’d like to think I’m an overall better player from that.”
That should only raise expectations that are already sky high, with Rutschman arguably the face of the Orioles' rebuild, despite never playing a game beyond Class A. For Rutschman, those expectations are nothing new.
“I think it’s a very fortunate and humbling position to be in, to have people say that,” Rutschman said. “I think it gets easier every day. Every single day I’m here playing baseball, it gets a little easier.”