BALTIMORE -- The Orioles made what they hope is a franchise-altering selection by taking Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman with the No. 1 overall pick in Monday’s MLB Draft -- the second time they've had the top overall pick. Thirty years after taking LSU righty Ben McDonald with the first pick in 1989, the Orioles again went with the consensus top college talent in Rutschman, who sat atop most Draft boards for the better part of the past two years.
“I’d just like to say how fortunate I am to play at the professional level and for a legacy organization like Baltimore,” Rutschman said. “I’m going to play the best that I can play and work as hard as I can. Everything else will take care of itself. Obviously, this is a huge honor and I’m looking forward to it.”
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A switch-hitting backstop and former College World Series Most Outstanding Player, Rutschman just completed a dominant two-year stretch for the Beavers, hitting .354 with a 1.225 OPS over 124 games in Corvallis as a sophomore and junior. This season, Rutschman hit .411/.575/.751 with 17 home runs, 76 walks and just 38 strikeouts in 57 games while leading all Division I players in walks and OBP. He is viewed as a strong defensive player, and he was recently called the best prospect since Bryce Harper by MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis.
“It’s hard to know where to start with Adley Rutschman. He’s a switch-hitting catcher with power, plus he can hit from both sides with an unbelievable statistical resume,” Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said. “He’s a team leader on and off the field. He’s everything you want and he plays a premium defensive position with athleticism that gives him versatility to play elsewhere, as needed.”
Rutschman is the sixth catcher in history to go No. 1 overall, and the first since Joe Mauer in 2001. This is the sixth time Baltimore has chosen a backstop with its first-round pick, and first since taking Matt Wieters out of Georgia Tech in 2007. Rutschman is also OSU’s first top overall pick, and the first native Oregonian to be selected in that spot since Dave Roberts by the Padres in 1972
He now becomes the highest-profile face of the Orioles’ substantial rebuilding efforts under Elias and assistant general manager Sig Mejdal, both of whom helped transform the Astros into World Series champions earlier this decade largely through success in the Draft. Rutschman is the fourth top overall selection for Elias, who was Houston’s scouting director when it selected Carlos Correa, Mark Appel and Brady Aiken in consecutive years from 2012-2014.
• 10 things to know about Adley Rutschman
Unlike Correa in 2012, Rutschman is not expected to sign at a significant discount. The No. 1 pick is valued at $8,415,300 this year, part of Baltimore’s $13,821,300 total bonus pool, second largest among MLB clubs.
“I really like their leadership at the top,” Rutschman said. “I think they’re going to be headed in a great direction and I’m really excited to play for them.”
Consider Rutschman integral to those efforts. Since inheriting a farm system ranked among baseball’s lower third in November, Elias has consistently looked ahead to the Draft while characterizing the top pick as the most important decision the Orioles would make this year. He predicted it wouldn’t be finalized until Draft day -- and that’s exactly what happened.
Rutschman said he was alerted a minute before Commissioner Rob Manfred announced the pick at MLB Network’s studios in Secaucus, N.J., ending speculation that had built for weeks as the Orioles held their plans close to the vest. As of Monday morning, they were still strongly considering four candidates: Rutschman, Texas prep shortstop Bobby Witt Jr., University of California first baseman Andrew Vaughn and Vanderbilt outfielder JJ Bleday. Witt, Vaughn and Bleday ended up going in order after Rutschman, to the Royals, White Sox and Marlins.
“Today’s been crazy -- crazy good,” Rutschman said. “You never know how it’s going to shake out and what the organization is thinking. There was doubt, and I didn’t know what was going to happen.”
“The top of this Draft went very much in order of prediction,” Elias said. “It was very similar to our board at the top. The first four picks were all under significant discussion from us at one point or another.”
But for the Orioles, all the internal discussions came back to Rutschman, who Elias called “a future fixture for this organization.” Elias was struck by Rutschman’s “maturity and leadership” during their in-person meeting this winter and said “to hear the elation in his voice was really special.” In doing so, Elias echoed glowing sentiments about Rutschman’s makeup that have become commonplace in scouting circles.
"The No. 1 overall pick is a big decision,” Elias said. “There are pros and cons with every player profile and every player. We like to work our way through all of that and ultimately decided for the long-range benefit of the organization that this was the right pick. We’re very excited about what this is going to do for our future.”
The Orioles then added to that future by selecting Alabama prep shortstop Gunnar Henderson with the first pick of the second round and Stanford center fielder Kyle Stowers in Competitive Balance Round B, No. 71 overall.
“I think it ended up being a diverse group,” Elias said. “It’s a good blend. And this is just the start of our Draft, a very important night. I view tomorrow as almost equally important.”
A left-handed hitter with projectable power and a commitment to Auburn University, Henderson was ranked the No. 27 prospect in this class by MLB Pipeline before falling to Baltimore at No. 42. Henderson was a two-sport star at John T. Morgan Academy in Selma, Ala., winning awards for his performance on the basketball court as well. Stowers was a standout performer in the Cape Cod League last summer, though he slumped somewhat as a junior for the Cardinal.
The Henderson pick marked the third straight year the Orioles have taken a shortstop on the Draft’s first day, as Henderson joins a system with other early-round picks Adam Hall (No. 60 in 2017) and Cadyn Grenier (No. 37 in 2018). The latter played with Rutschman at OSU from 2017-2018.
“Just about everything you could want from a catcher, he does it phenomenally,” said Grenier, who is currently at Class A Delmarva. “He’s a really hard worker, he’s a lot of fun to be around, he’s really easy to like."
The Draft continues on Tuesday with Rounds 3-10. The MLB.com preview show begins at 12:30 p.m. ET, with exclusive coverage beginning at 1 p.m. ET. Go to MLB.com/Draft for complete coverage, including every pick on Draft Tracker, coverage and analysis from MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo, the complete order of selection and more. And follow @MLBDraft and @MLBDraftTracker on Twitter.
Joe Trezza covers the Orioles for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JoeTrezz.