O's GM expects smooth signing of Rutschman

June 8th, 2019

HOUSTON -- When the Tigers signed top draft pick Riley Greene to a contract Wednesday, it drove home a reality that takes shape every June. For all the excitement, drama and promise of Draft night, selections don’t officially join their organizations until later, when pen is put to paper. Until that happens, nothing is guaranteed.

The Orioles, though, don’t expect any drama with Adley Rutschman. Less than a week after taking Rutschman with the franchise’s first No. 1 overall pick in 30 years, executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias expressed optimism Friday that the former Oregon State catcher will join the Orioles officially in short order.

“I expect him to sign,” Elias said. “When that happens, I don’t know right now. I’m not anticipating a lot of trouble there.”

The Orioles and Rutschman’s representatives have until July 12 at 5 p.m. ET to strike a deal, a deadline which most players drafted will be accounted for well before. Historically, though, things can get sticky when it comes to top selections, with some not signing in rare cases.

Elias was a key member of Houston’s front office when the 2014 deadline passed without the Astros signing No.1 pick Brady Aiken, after medical details emerged late to slow negotiations between the club and Aiken’s representatives.

Elias said he expects the Orioles to announce their first wave of signings next week, and though Rutschman isn’t expected to be part of that crop, the expectation is things won’t get rocky. The consensus top amateur prospect for the better part of two years, Rutschman has little to prove by returning to Oregon State, though as a rising senior, he could use the possibility as potential leverage. The Orioles, similarly, have little reason to complicate things with a player who could quickly become a face of the franchise.

The No.1 pick is valued at $8,415,300, part of the $13,821,300 total bonus pool Baltimore must spread between its top 10 picks. No top overall selection has signed for slot value since the current bonus system was implemented in 2012.

Where will Rutschman play?

A noted defender behind the plate, Elias confirmed the possibility of Rutschman seeing time at other positions once he’s assigned to a Minor League affiliate, maybe as early as this summer. Rutschman’s position made him something of a prospect unicorn but provides a challenge for the Orioles from a development standpoint.

The list of players who’ve enjoyed decade-plus Major League careers exclusively as catchers is short. The list of those who’ve done so as offense-first players? Even shorter, given the physical demands of the position. Even the best-case scenarios, like Buster Posey and Joe Mauer -- top picks themselves, Mauer the last backstop to go No.1 overall back in 2001 -- saw their production or their playing time behind the plate severely reduced by the time they hit 30.

Rutschman won’t be 22 until February and is lauded as an excellent defensive catcher, hence the long-term strategizing already with regards to his longevity. For what it’s worth, Rutschman sprinkled in time at first base during his career at Oregon State and is regarded as athletic enough to hold his own there professionally.

“I’m going to have to sit down and talk to him and see how he wants to approach this summer,” Elias said. “For us, from a developmental standpoint, the at-bats are going to be more important. 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.”

Say hi again, Santander

A night after colliding hard with the left-field wall in Arlington, outfielder Dwight Smith Jr. was placed on the seven-day concussion list Friday. The Orioles promoted Anthony Santander from Triple-A Norfolk for the second time this season to fill in for Smith on the roster.

“The opportunity is here,” said Santander, who started in right field and batted second in the opener vs. the Astros. “What I’m going to do is play hard. That is my part."

The switch-hitting Santander was hitting .263 with a .737 OPS and five home runs across 47 games at Triple-A, his first extended run at the level. He’s played for the Orioles the past three seasons, hitting .218 with a .604 OPS across 47 games.

How long Santander remains in the mix is unclear, though hitting well would help his case. A previously crowded Orioles outfield is suddenly full of openings, with Smith going on the IL a night after DJ Stewart did the same with a right ankle sprain. Smith is required to remain inactive for at least a week, while Stewart is likely to need more than 10 days to return. The rest of the Orioles' outfield depth consists of Stevie Wilkerson, who was recalled Thursday and started in left Friday.

The Orioles summoned Santander instead of Joey Rickard and Cedric Mullins, who both have seen Major League time this season.

“There are plenty of outfielders in the Minors,” Santander said. “We realize it is a competition, a friendly competition among us, and whoever does better gets the call.”

Roster move

Looking to freshen their heavily-taxed bullpen, the Orioles optioned right-hander Branden Kline to Triple-A Norfolk on Friday night, after Kline took the loss in a 4-3 loss to the Astros. Kline, 27, owns a 5.89 ERA in 15 appearances this season as a rookie. Baltimore did not announce a corresponding move.