Nearly two years since the Orioles selected him No. 1 overall in the 2019 MLB Draft, Adley Rutschman is finally about to embark on his first full professional season. This is of no fault of Rutschman's. A bout with mononucleosis resulted in a late start in the summer of 2019, and the COVID-19 pandemic wiped away what would’ve been his first full season last summer. Through one lens, the pandemic affected the Orioles more than perhaps any other team, given their focus on player development during this rebuilding period.
Which is why Tuesday’s return of official Minor League games is generating so much excitement within the organization, especially in regard to Rutschman. The club’s No. 1 prospect (No. 2 overall), per MLB Pipeline, will be in uniform with Double-A Bowie when the Baysox open their 2021 season on Tuesday in Altoona, Pa.
“It’s been a while since we’ve been playing in games, and just to get back out there again, get that adrenaline going, it’s going to be exciting and I’m stoked to be a part of it,” Rutschman said on a Zoom call with reporters on Monday afternoon. “I think that just two years of lifting, development, hitting work and work behind the plate, whether it was at the alternate site, during the offseason or Spring Training, I’m definitely a better individual and a better player now than I was. Everything that comes with getting older and sticking with my process has me feeling a lot more confident than I did two years ago.”
Two years ago, Rutschman was the consensus top collegiate player in the country, a College World Series champion, soon-to-be Golden Spikes Award winner and seen as a generational prospect behind the plate. Nothing has happened to dull those projections; as a switch-hitting catcher with plus power and defensive skills some believe are ready for the big leagues right now, Rutschman remains widely viewed as the best catching prospect in a generation. The only thing that’s been altered is his timeline. Now with affiliate baseball ramping back up, it’s up to Rutschman to determine how much.
He’ll headline a talented Bowie roster alongside left-hander DL Hall (No. 4 Orioles prospect) and righty Kyle Bradish (No. 14). Hall has arguably the best pure stuff in the organization, and Bradish took the biggest leap forward over the past year. It’ll be the first time Rutschman has caught either outside of instructional camp or the controlled environment of the O’s alternate training site.
And if all goes to the Orioles’ plans, it could be a preview of big league batteries set to arrive in Baltimore as early as 2022. Perhaps even sooner, in Rutschman’s case, if he performs well out of the gate.
“It feels like a big part of my life was missing there for a little bit, and it just makes me appreciate it that much more,” Rutschman said. “As far as expectations go, there’s always going to be expectations, and for me, I just have to be able to control what I can control, and other people’s expectations don’t really fall into that category. That’s kind of how I’ve always treated it. It seems to have worked out so far.”
The Orioles optioned Bruce Zimmermann to Triple-A Norfolk on Monday in part to limit the young lefty’s innings, like they did with Dean Kremer in late April. Zimmermann, like Kremer, has struggled of late, losing three of his four decisions and failing to complete five innings in all four. Zimmermann is 1-3 with a 5.40 ERA in six starts this season overall. Due to two upcoming off-days, he can return to pitch by what would’ve been his turn anyway on May 14.
The Orioles recalled right-handed reliever Isaac Mattson from Norfolk in a corresponding move. Acquired from the Angels as part of the Dylan Bundy trade in December 2019, Mattson posted huge strikeout numbers across four levels in ’19, including 19 in 9 1/3 innings at Triple-A. His first appearance will be his MLB debut.
From the trainer’s room
Originally penciled in the fifth spot and playing right field in Monday’s lineup, DJ Stewart was scratched due to back stiffness. The outfielder is day to day, manager Brandon Hyde said.
According to Hyde, the discomfort does not stem from Stewart’s collision with the Oakland Coliseum bullpen on Saturday. Stewart’s head made hard contact with the low, padded bullpen roof on the play, which was integral to Baltimore’s 8-4 win over the A’s. Stewart finished the game and played the entirety of Sunday’s 7-5 loss in Oakland, going 1-for-4.
How about the rest of the Top 30?
Here is where the Orioles Top 30 Prospects will begin the 2021 season:
No. 1 -- Adley Rutschman: Double-A Bowie
No. 2 -- RHP Grayson Rodriguez: High-A Aberdeen
No. 3 -- OF Heston Kjerstad: extended spring training
No. 4 -- LHP DL Hall: Double-A Bowie
No. 5 -- SS Gunnar Henderson: Low-A Delmarva
No. 6 -- SS Jordan Westburg: Low-A Delmarva
No. 7 -- RHP Dean Kremer: MLB
No. 8 -- RHP Michael Baumann: Triple-A Norfolk
No. 9 -- OF Yusniel Diaz: Triple-A Norfolk
No. 10 -- LHP Keegan Akin: Triple-A Norfolk
No. 11 -- LHP Zac Lowther: MLB taxi squad/Triple-A Norfolk
No. 12 -- 2B Terrin Vavra: Triple-A Norfolk
No. 13 -- SS/2B Adam Hall: High-A Aberdeen
No. 14 -- RHP Kyle Bradish: Double-A Bowie
No. 15 -- OF Ryan McKenna: Triple-A Norfolk
No. 16 -- OF Hudson Haskin: Low-A Delmarva
No. 17 -- 3B Coby Mayo: extended spring training
No. 18 -- LHP Kevin Smith: Double-A Bowie
No. 19 -- 2B Jahmai Jones: Triple-A Norfolk
No. 20 -- LHP Alexander Wells: Triple-A Norfolk
No. 21 -- SS Maikol Hernandez: extended spring training
No. 22 -- RHP Carter Baumler: Injured
No. 23 -- 3B/2B Rylan Bannon: Triple-A Norfolk
No. 24 -- 1B Tyler Nevin: Triple-A Norfolk
No. 25 -- OF Kyle Stowers: High-A Aberdeen
No. 26 -- SS Anthony Servideo: Low-A Delmarva
No. 27 -- C Samual Basallo: extended spring training
No. 28 -- LHP Drew Rom: High-A Aberdeen
No. 29 -- RHP Garrett Stallings: High-A Aberdeen
No. 30 -- SS Darell Hernaiz: Low-A Delmarva