Adley, O's prospects knocking down door in camp
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Even the best architects can’t ever know for certain what a rebuilding timeline is going to look like. The Orioles started down this path when Mike Elias was brought in to be executive vice president/general manager back in November 2018. He rightfully warned that the process wouldn’t be a quick fix, not if it was to be done right.
There have, for sure, been some lean years since, as the Orioles restocked their system with early Draft picks, trade acquisitions and a recommitment to finding talent in Latin America. But while the answer to when things in the big leagues will truly turn around is still TBD, looking around Minor League camp here, it’s clear the swell of talent in the farm system is getting very close to 'knocking on the door' status.
“I think there’s a sense of excitement, of energy, because we have a group of players and staff who have been here for multiple years,” said Matt Blood, the Orioles director of player development since September 2019. “They know each other, they know what we do, what we value. People are comfortable in a good way. They’re seeing a lot of good things happen. That’s bringing a lot of good energy.”
The center of that energy can’t help but be Adley Rutschman, who has been seen as the future face of the franchise ever since his name was called as the No. 1 pick in the '19 Draft. The Oregon State product lived up to billing in what was his first true full season after the pandemic shutdown, hitting 23 homers and finishing with a .899 OPS between Double-A and Triple-A while providing plus defense behind the plate. The clamor for him to be in the big leagues yesterday might be growing louder and louder, but one of Rutschman’s most impressive skills is his ability to keep things quiet.
“Adley does a great job of staying present, staying where his feet are, controlling what he can control,” Blood said. “Yes, those are cliché, but he takes those things very seriously. He’s genuine about it and he’s process-oriented. He’s going to worry about where he is and what he’s supposed to be doing. When the time comes, he’s going to worry about what he’s doing then.”
Rutschman, for his part, appears prepared to shoulder whatever comes next, bringing intentionality and focus to everything as he’s always done, especially this spring.
“Staying present is definitely a difficult thing in life and in baseball,” Rutschman said. “For me, just going through last year and into this year, I’m trying to not as much stay present, but more just focus on the next 10 minutes, try and really compartmentalize my days and just focus on how I can get better in that given day, in the given hitting session, and really just try to be [intentional] in my work, and try to make the most out of the time I have. And if I do that on a daily basis, I'm not going to have any regrets.”
Camp standouts: So many shortstops
While we don’t know what the future of defensive shifts will be, the Orioles might want to see if they’re allowed to play three shortstops at once. It starts with the exciting and athletic duo of Gunnar Henderson and Jordan Westburg. It’s hard to talk about one and not mention the other as big, physical players who have shown they can certainly stick at shortstop.
Henderson, just 20, was the O’s second-round pick in '19, and is coming off a year that saw him start in Low-A and touch Double-A. Westburg was the 30th overall pick in the shortened 2020 Draft and also spent time at three levels. They’re not exactly the same player, but both have intriguing power-speed combinations and both showed up this spring in peak condition.
“Both look even more physical,” Blood said. “They’ve both worked really hard on their swings and defensive stuff. They can play short. They’re really good athletes. They make things happen offensively.
“They’re both competing shortstops who have been together a lot. It’s an older brother, little brother situation. Younger brother Gunnar doesn’t have the same polish and experience as Westburg, but they’re both really exciting. There are players you want to stop what you’re doing and watch when they’re in the box. That’s how they are when they were hitting.”
The duo might need to be a trio if how good Joseph Ortiz has looked so far is any indication. The club’s fourth-rounder in '19 out of New Mexico State only played 35 games last year because of a non-throwing shoulder injury. A defensive whiz, he’s added a lot of good strength and the results have been obvious.
“It’s really nice to see him healthy and out there,” Blood said. “He’s looked fantastic defensively and at the plate. He’s a really good at-bat. He swings at good pitches; he squares the ball up a lot. He’s hitting it harder than he did when he was an amateur or his first year in professional baseball, more consistently, and that changed his profile.”
All three are at around the same level of the system. It’s a good problem to have, but one that will make filling out a lineup card a bit tricky.
“We’ll have all three of them competing at shortstop throughout the year, most likely,” Blood said. “They’ll all have to play different positions, all three infield positions, mostly, maybe a little outfield.”
Prospect we’ll be talking about in 2023: Carter Baumler
The Orioles went way over slot to sign Baumler, giving the Iowa high schooler $1.5 million in the fifth round of the '20 Draft. They didn’t have much time to assess the investment as he hurt his elbow during instructional camp and needed Tommy John surgery. So this is Baumler’s first Spring Training, one in which he recently said, “I just feel like a normal ballplayer again, you know?”
The Orioles are as excited as he is.
“The stuff, the athleticism, the delivery is there,” Blood said. “He looks like a guy. He’s athletic, he’s physical. He’s a fiercely focused guy on the mound and he has above-average stuff at such a young age. He just looks the part as a future Major League pitcher at age 19.”
Something to prove: Heston Kjerstad
Just having Kjerstad in camp participating in baseball activities is a huge win. The No. 2 overall pick of the '20 Draft had been kept off the field because of myocarditis, a viral inflammation of the heart muscle. Now he can get back to showing what he’s capable of as one of the best college hitters in his Draft class.
“This guy missed baseball for a while; I’m thrilled to see him out on the baseball field and fitting in with the rest of the guys,” Blood said. “He’s a competitor and a hard worker. He’s a tough at-bat and has a ton of power. We’re seeing that. He has to continue to see better and better pitching and get more experience hitting in professional baseball. He has the skills and mind for it.”