'Truly humbled': Top pick Rutschman introduced

June 25th, 2019

BALTIMORE -- By the time he stepped into the Oriole Park batting circle Tuesday afternoon -- flanked by big leaguers and club officials of almost every level -- Adley Rutschman’s introduction to Baltimore had already been elaborate: a record contract signed, a tour of the clubhouse he hopes to call home, a celebratory press conference and stroll down Eutaw Street completed. Then he swung, depositing several practice pitches over the right-field fence -- one onto Eutaw itself -- bringing what he called a “whirlwind” two days full circle.

And providing, the Orioles envision, a glimpse into their future.

“It’s very exciting,” Rutschman said. “It’s a special thing here and it’s a special history. To be a part of that and part of the building process that’s going on right now, I’m truly humbled to be a part of that.”

Exactly three weeks after making him the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s MLB Draft, the Orioles signed Rutschman to a record $8.1 million signing bonus Monday. A day later, Rutschman’s family, representatives, and members of the Orioles' scouting department were on hand to watch him drape a home white No. 1 jersey onto his shoulders for the first time. Rutschman called it a “goal” of his to be in this position, having spent upwards of the past two years as the consensus top amateur prospect in the country.

“I don’t know if I ever expected it, because for me it was always about the process of getting there,” Rutschman said. “Now it's about setting new goals and new expectations. Now that I’m here, I’m just excited for the opportunity to go play and make baseball my job.”

Those expectations will be high, given Rutschman’s pedigree, contract and the major step in the Orioles' rebuilding process he represents. As for how he’ll spend his signing bonus, Rutschman demurred.

“I’m pretty comfortable with my Honda Civic,” he quipped.

“We said all along, this is probably the biggest decision that this organization is going to make this year, and we took it very seriously,” general manager and executive vice president Mike Elias said. “We couldn’t be more thrilled with the outcome, having him join our organization and be a part of the process in taking it back to where it belongs. We are in a phase now where we are looking for building blocks, and I think by signing Adley Rutschman we found a very big piece.”

Now Rutschman's climb begins. Elias said Rutschman will be sent to the Orioles' training facility in Sarasota, Fla., next week to join the O's Gulf Coast League affiliate, with an eye toward placing him at Class A Short-Season Aberdeen later this summer. There, Rutschman will catch part time while sprinkling in reps at first base and designated hitter.

While the long-term goal remains to keep Rutschman behind the plate, Elias called the plan to limit his early reps part of a “slow onboarding process to get him going after the layoff he’s had.” This year’s Golden Spikes Award and Dick Howser Trophy winner, Rutschman completed a 57-game junior season at Oregon State on June 1. He hit .411 with a 1.326 OPS, 17 home runs, 76 walks and just 38 strikeouts, leading all Division I players in walks and OBP while serving as the Beavers’ primary catcher.

“We feel his defense is fairly polished. We don’t feel he needs to log a ton of development innings at the catcher position. The at-bats are going to be more important,” Elias said. “But certainly we want to keep him catching.”

Therein lies the balancing act for the Orioles. Baseball history has not been kind to even the best offensive catchers, their production often diminishing fairly early under the demands of the position. But for as much as his bat and leadership qualities are lauded, it was the positional value catching provided Rutschman that helped separate him atop a Draft class top-heavy with college hitters.

“For me, that’s a position I enjoy, because I am able to have that influence on others and be a leader on the team,” said Rutschman, who began catching full time in college.

The Orioles have been on him for much longer, with West Coast-area scout Brandon Verley first hearing about Rutschman when he was an eighth grader in central Oregon. Three years later, Verley stumped passionately for Rutschman in the Orioles' war room during the 2016 Draft’s later rounds, hoping to take a flier despite Rutschman’s strong commitment to Oregon State. The Mariners eventually selected Rutschman in the 40th round, as a pitcher, at which point he headed to Corvallis.

Rutschman was a two-sport athlete then, punting for OSU’s football team as a freshman before committing to baseball full time as a sophomore. That’s when, Verley said, Rutschman’s career “took off like a rocket.” He shot up Draft boards that spring, earning College World Series Most Outstanding Player honors for the national championship team that also included Orioles farmhand Cadyn Grenier.

“I can’t say enough about him,” Verley said. “It was the easiest decision, to be able to say yes to a player like that.”

Asked how quickly Rutschman can rise to the Majors, Verley said, “there are a lot of guys that think he can play there right now.”

“I think you could put him there right now if you wanted,” Verley said. “Obviously the learning curve would be tougher than if he was to climb [professional levels], but as quickly as Mike and the guys at the top are ready to get him in there, I think he’ll be ready to answer the call.”

For the Orioles, the how, why, and when are all questions for another day. They view Tuesday as just a beginning.

“We’re trying to bring in talent from every direction possible,” Elias said. “Having the No. 1 pick in the Draft is a special opportunity to do that. I think the important thing for us is that doesn’t start and end here.”