Inbox: Could O's move Rutschman to first base?

Baltimore beat writer Joe Trezza answers fans' questions

June 24th, 2019

Do you think the O's will move Adley Rutschman from catcher to first base or third base to elongate his career and keep his bat fresh? Is that a move that they'd make when he's in the Minors or when he's already a big leaguer?

-- Jacob B., Olney, Md.

They’re already considering it, at least on a part-time basis. Executive vice president of baseball operations Mike Elias said that he plans to gauge Rutschman’s willingness to sprinkle time at other positions as early as this summer.

Scouts and the Orioles alike love Rutschman’s ability behind the plate, where he’s viewed as a plus receiver and thrower with leadership skills already. But the bat is the priority, and catching isn’t typically conducive to longevity. Even best-case scenarios like Joe Mauer and Buster Posey were either moved from behind the plate or had their offensive production diminished due to injury (or both) by their early 30s. That history has the Orioles already toying with ways to keep Rustchman fresh.

“For us, from a developmental standpoint, the at-bats are going to be more important,” Elias said earlier this month. “His receiving is so polished that I don’t see us doing a lot of work on that. By the end of the year, it became so apparent to us that this was a really special bat, a really special hitter. If he meets expectations offensively, it may be a discussion of how to pace him from a physical standpoint.”

What is going with Hunter Harvey? Why is pitching out of the bullpen?
-- Steve S., Pikesville, Md.

This is a generally new development, with the Orioles shifting Harvey to the bullpen last weekend. Why? They want to see what it looks like, for a variety of reasons.

One: Harvey’s injury history. He simply could not stay healthy as a starter, missing huge chunks of every season since being drafted in 2013. Harvey has thrown 56 innings this year at Double-A Bowie -- amazingly, that’s pushing up against his career high of 87 2/3, thrown in 2014.

Two: his performance. For all the pitchers in the Orioles' system showing improvement this season, Harvey was not one of them. He owned a 6.12 ERA over 11 starts, and had just labored through an eight-run outing when the O's decided to make the change.

Three, his bloodlines. Harvey is no stranger to relieving. His father, Bryan Harvey, spent parts of nine seasons in the Majors as a successful closer. Bryan Harvey was a two-time All-Star and led the American League in saves in 1991 with the Angels.

Four: his stuff. Hunter Harvey still has some of the best stuff in the system, but he’s missing fewer bats and walking as many as ever in his career. The organization’s hope is that it’ll play up in shorter spurts. So far, it has. Harvey has notched two scoreless relief appearances, going three innings in each.

Who do you think gets sent down when DJ Stewart comes off the injured list?
-- Chuck M., @Rev17CS via Twitter

It's too early to tell. Stewart’s sprained right ankle is still not healed enough for him to begin a rehab assignment. And once he does, you’d think that he’d need at least a handful of games after missing roughly three weeks due to the injury.

A lot can change between now and then, but these things tend to work themselves out. One thing for certain is that the Orioles aren’t going to expand their bench any more than they already have -- they don’t have the pitching depth to do so.

As for the most vulnerable position player? That’s probably Stevie Wilkerson at the moment. But it’s also entirely possible that the Orioles could send Stewart back to Triple-A Nortfolk with how well Anthony Santander has played in right field. Stewart was raking when he was recalled, but overall, he went just 4-for-24 (.167) at the plate before getting hurt.

Personally, I don’t, at least not this summer. The Orioles have made it clear that they’re going to listen to offers on Mancini, but they’re not going to give him away either. The package will need to overwhelm them, and I just don’t see it coming to that.

Mancini is having a great year, and his three-plus years of club control will make him attractive to other clubs. But bat-first corner types rarely drive the market, whether in July or mid-winter. We’ve seen similar players -- like Nicholas Castellanos of the Tigers, for example -- sit on the trade block for years. The Orioles have all the leverage here, owning Mancini’s rights through 2022. They can wait and debate as long as they want.

Mullins is still on the 40-man roster and would be a candidate to be recalled should he turn things around offensively. But he’s simply continued to struggle after his demotion to Triple-A in April. Mullins is hitting .225/.291/.343 with five home runs and 10 steals in 52 games for Norfolk.