With alternative training sites coming to an end, MLB Pipeline is recapping the development highlights for the prospects involved for each organization.
Top position prospect: Adley Rutschman, C (No. 1 on Orioles Top 30)
Stop us if you’ve heard this one, but Rutschman is really, really good at baseball. In these kinds of stories, an attempt is made to spread the love around, but when a guy is the best player at the alternate training site, he’s the best player. And Rutschman, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 Draft, was the best player.
“He’s been great,” Orioles farm director Matt Blood said. “He’s doing everything he’s being asked of and more. He’s been a great leader. It’s a well-rounded skill set that keeps getting better. It’s an impact skill set in every facet of the game. It was impressive to watch him work, and he got better every single day.”
Rutschman, baseball's No. 2 overall prospect, didn’t get to show off too many of his tools during his pro debut a summer ago, picking up just 130 at-bats and slashing a combined .254/.351/.423, showing glimpses of what’s to come when he posted a .325/.413/.481 slash line in 20 games at Class A Short Season Aberdeen. As good and as advanced as he is, he works at his craft and is willing to make changes to improve that will help him in what is sure to be a rapid rise to Baltimore.
“He likes to tinker, make incremental improvements,” Blood said. “He’s very open to finding ways to improve, finding ways to do things even better than how he is currently doing them. That allows him to improve on his already advanced ability.
"He’s working on very micro things in his swing that allow him to be more efficient and ultimately more consistent with his production. That’s something he did in Bowie. He started out a little slow. Once he made adjustments, he exploded and took off.”
Top pitching prospect: Grayson Rodriguez, RHP (No. 2)
The Orioles had a bit of an embarrassment of riches pitching-wise, with several young arms performing well. But Rodriguez, who wowed people in the 2019 SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game, stood out.
The No. 11 overall selection in 2018 out of the Texas high school ranks, Rodriguez has always had an exciting combination of size, stuff and projection. MLB's No. 31 overall prospect dominated the South Atlantic League during his first full season but also only threw 94 innings, with the Orioles being understandably cautious. So his time at the alternate training site was well spent getting reps and showing how his stuff plays against a higher level of competition, with the player development staff having to remind themselves the 6-foot-5 right-hander is only 20 years old.
“The overall package of the stuff, the size, the pitchability is exciting,” Blood said. “With him, it’s just about refining everything into more consistent execution. It’s all there, he’s young, and he took steps in that direction.”
Youngest prospect: Gunnar Henderson, SS (No. 6)
Looking for the next member of the Top 100? Blood thinks Henderson, the 19-year-old taken in the second round of the 2019 Draft, is the clear choice. The left-handed-hitting shortstop from Alabama acquitted himself well during his pro debut in the Gulf Coast League a year ago, post a . 259/.331/.370 slash line in 29 games while he was a year and half younger than the average hitter in the league at the time.
The jump to the pitching he faced at the alternate training site -- Rodriguez was joined by top arms like DL Hall, Michael Baumann, Kyle Bradish, Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer, with the last two landing the big leagues -- was not an easy one, and Henderson definitely scuffled a bit out of the gate. But once he got his feet under him, he more than held his own.
“He was the most exciting guy in camp for me,” Blood said. “The guy worked really hard and he showed five tools. He’s facing Double-A, Triple-A, 4-A pitchers for the first time in his life. It was a challenge for him, and he caught up. By week three, he had caught up to the competition he was facing and he was one of the best guys there. The older guys really took notice and were impressed by him and were also helping him. And he played a nice shortstop, too.”
2020 Draft picks
The Orioles didn’t send any of their 2020 draftees to their alternate training site, but all six of their selections are currently participating in the organization’s instructional league program.
The Orioles pitching, particularly the names mentioned above, all stood out during their time in Bowie. Kremer (No. 10) used his performance there as a springboard to the big leagues, where three of his four starts were outstanding. Akin (No. 15) also got to show what he could do in Baltimore. Hall (No. 4) was 96-99 mph with his fastball, with a similar “big stuff” profile to Rodriguez, but will need to continue to work on his consistency, something he also made strides with.
But it was Bradish (No. 28) who might have opened the most eyes, partially because it was the first time the Orioles had really seen him. The 6-foot-4 right-hander was the best of the four prospects the Orioles got from the Angels in last December’s Dylan Bundy trade, and the 2018 fourth-round pick out of New Mexico State didn’t get to show his new team too much before the shutdown. He made up for that this summer.
“He was really impressive,” Blood said. “It’s a big time breaking ball, good velocity, overpowering stuff, he’s aggressive. He’s right up there with those other guys.”