Flash back to these buzzworthy Orioles debuts

April 5th, 2023

BALTIMORE -- With Grayson Rodriguez reportedly receiving his first call to the Majors, the wait for Baltimore's top pitching prospect is over.

He'll join batterymate Adley Rutschman, who generated a whole lot of hype when the Orioles drafted him first overall in the 2019 Draft, making his debut last season a must-see not just for Orioles fans, but for the baseball world at large. But his is not the first highly anticipated debut in franchise history. Where does it rank?

Let’s look back on the most buzzworthy debuts in O’s history to find out.

1. Adley Rutschman, C
May 21, 2022

You'd be hard-pressed to find a debut more highly-anticipated than Rutschman's. Even his teammates were aware of it -- Trey Mancini, at that time the longest-tenured Oriole, wasn't sure if the city of Baltimore had experienced a bigger sports moment since 2014, when the club made it to the ALCS for the first time in 17 years. Of course, in the years between the playoff run and Rutschman's debut on May 21, 2022, baseball fans in Baltimore had experienced a lot, much of it unpleasant. In 2019, the year the Orioles made Rutschman a first overall draft pick, they lost 108 games, an improvement after the 47-115 season they'd had in 2018. Rutschman, as the centerpiece of a long rebuild, represented the possibility of a new era of Orioles baseball.

In Rutschman's debut, he went 1-for-3 with a triple, a fine day that marked a major shift in the 2022 season. The Orioles, who were nine games under .500 up until that point, went 67-54 over the remainder of the season, a run that had them playing down the stretch as contenders for a postseason berth. While they ultimately fell short of that goal, Rutschman himself ended the season hitting .254/.362/.445 with 13 homers and 42 RBIs, good for a second place finish in AL Rookie of the Year voting.

2. Matt Wieters, C
May 29, 2009

Even though they’re different players, many compared Rutschman and Wieters because of the easy parallels: their position, their ability to switch-hit and the hype. It was so big with Wieters that then-team president Andy MacPhail went on television to announce his impending arrival days in advance, an extremely uncharacteristic move for the executive. The Orioles sold thousands of walk-up tickets for his debut, a late May game against the Tigers set almost two full years from the day they drafted Wieters fifth overall out of Georgia Tech. Press clippings from those days quoted people describing Wieters in such terms as “Joe Mauer with power,” "Switch-hitting Jesus” and “simply God.”

Like Rutschman, Wieters was the nation’s consensus top player and likely would’ve gone first overall if not for signability questions. Also similarly, the Orioles were trying to emerge from a dark period at the time; by 2009, they were mired in the 12th of what would be 14 consecutive losing seasons. Wieters went hitless in front of 42,704 fans in his debut and went on to be a four-time All-Star over eight seasons in Baltimore.

3. Manny Machado, 3B
Aug. 9, 2012

The Orioles didn’t miss much picking third in the ultra-talented 2010 Draft, selecting Machado out of the Miami high school ranks behind Bryce Harper and Jameson Taillon. He was in the Majors two years later, summoned a month after his 20th birthday to help an Orioles team eying its first playoff berth in 15 years. The city was abuzz with the postseason chances and the arrival of its new infield phenom.

"The only reason we did it, the biggest reason, is because we think he can help us win more games potentially," Orioles manager Buck Showalter told the Baltimore Sun at the time. "Our needs, and where Manny was, we felt like he could help us. We've got 50-ish games left and we think he's our best option.”

Moving to third with J.J. Hardy at short, Machado went 2-for-4 with a triple in his debut and contributed on both sides of the ball down the stretch, helping Baltimore to the American League Division Series. He quickly grew into a perennial All-Star and one of the most productive all-around players of the 2010s.

4. Ben McDonald, RHP
Sept. 6, 1989

Prospect hype is not exclusive to this era, but it is a relatively modern concept. There was no internet or social media when McDonald debuted for the Orioles down the stretch in ’89, but his arrival still marks one of the most anticipated by a pitcher in the history of the sport.

That was the product of McDonald’s All-American collegiate career at Louisiana State, where he twice led the Tigers to the College World Series and also starred for Team USA. He was the Orioles’ first ever No. 1-overall pick in ’89 -- and was in the Majors less than three months later for the “Why Not?” O’s team attempting to complete an unlikely playoff push. Those Orioles fell just short, using McDonald strictly in relief down the stretch. He’d go on to pitch seven solid, but not star-level, seasons for the Orioles, retiring after 1997 due to shoulder problems.

5. Mike Mussina, RHP
Aug. 4, 1991

Mussina was such a star at Stanford, the Orioles actually drafted him twice -- eventually signing the righty after making him the 20th overall pick in the 1990 Draft. Talented and polished, Mussina made just 28 Minor League starts before he was summoned to Baltimore to widespread excitement. He lived up to all of it, spending the first decade of his decorated, Hall of Fame career starring atop the Orioles rotation.

If the theme of Mussina’s Cooperstown career was “almost,” (he famously fell just shy of several no-hitters and did not compile 20 wins until his final season with the Yankees) then perhaps it was fitting his debut unfolded the way it did. He took a hard-luck loss, despite pitching 7 2/3 innings of one-run ball against the White Sox in Baltimore’s 1-0 defeat that night.

Honorable mention: INF Gunnar Henderson, RHP Kevin Gausman, RHP Dylan Bundy, LHP Brian Matusz