Rutschman rakes, Stewart makes progress

February 19th, 2020

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Sitting at his locker in the Orioles clubhouse on Wednesday morning, was asked if, having been here 12 whole days, he had begun to feel the grind of spring, if he’d become bored yet with the routine that these weeks of early workouts tend to fall into.

Somewhat surprised by the question, Rutschman looked up and laughed.

“No, this is awesome,” Rutschman said. “We’re still in the first couple weeks. If this is a grind right now, I feel bad for you. I’m excited to come to the field every day.”

It was only a few hours later that Rutschman, as firmly as at any other point yet this spring, provided a glimpse of why the Orioles are so excited to have him. The reigning No. 1 overall MLB Draft pick and Baltimore’s No. 1 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, put on the type of show only spring can provide on Wednesday, impressing his coaches and teammates with several long home runs during batting practice on Field 3 of the Ed Smith Stadium complex.

Rutschman cleared the fence on multiple occasions with Orioles manager Brandon Hyde watching, finishing one round with back-to-back left-handed homers. One cleared the batter’s eye in center field, while another disappeared in the direction of the homes beyond the right-field fence.

The switch-hitting Rutschman capped his next round by dropping to one knee and crushing another homer right-handed.

“He’s fun to watch hit,” Hyde said. “I love the way he swings the bat from both sides of the plate. He has huge power.”

Hyde went on to speak glowingly of the way Rutschman has handled his week-plus in big league camp, lauding the 22-year-old’s pick’s defensive work, communication skills and demeanor. On Wednesday, he saw visual evidence of the bat considered one of the most polished to ever come out of the Draft when Baltimore selected Rutschman last June. Soon, it figures to be on display in the Grapefruit League, with Rutschman set to make his game debut at some point this weekend. Hyde said Rutschman’s opportunities would likely come late in games as a defensive replacement or as a pinch-hitter.

“I’ve been really impressed -- he’s come here and he hasn’t been afraid,” Hyde said. “He’s come here like he belongs. He’s done everything really well.”

Stewart progressing
Exactly four months removed from microfracture surgery on his right ankle, said he is progressing on schedule in his rehab. The 26-year-old Stewart, who, if healthy, would be in the mix for a reserve role with the Orioles, would just rather not disclose specifically what that schedule is.

“I don’t want a timetable out there and everyone saying I need to be back for this date or that date,” Stewart said. “When I’m healthy, I’ll be healthy. I don’t want someone saying one thing and then it’s a big story that I’m not out there by a certain date. So I’m not giving any dates.”

Baltimore’s first round Draft pick in 2015, Stewart was set to get an extended look in the big leagues after a roaring start at Triple-A last spring. But he played in just seven games before spraining his right ankle after a collision in June in Texas, which put him out of action for a month. He was promoted again in early August and promptly suffered a concussion in his first game back, when he was struck in the head diving for a fly ball.

All told, Stewart hit .238/.317/.381 with four homers in 44 games. He underwent surgery in mid-October to remove bone spurs from a previous ankle injury; his prognosis worsened when additional testing revealed the microfracture. The operation required Stewart to keep his ankle immobile for two months after the surgery. He arrived in Sarasota a month early to ramp up the rehab process.

“I know my ability earned me an opportunity to be in the big leagues last year,” Stewart said. “I just couldn’t show what I could do because I got hurt so quickly. I am fully confident in the fact that when I am healthy, I’ll be the kind of player that will help this team win.”

Whether or not Stewart gets the chance to prove that by Opening Day remains to be seen. Though the Orioles said at the time of the surgery that Stewart would resume baseball activities “near the end of Spring Training,” that process has already begun in limited fashion. He’s been hitting and running for several weeks, but must progress to higher-impact base-running and outfield drills before he can be fully cleared for game action.

Roster move
The Orioles added another utility option by claiming the versatile from the Indians. Utilityman Richard Ureña was designated for assignment in a corresponding move. Velazquez, 25, appeared in 28 MLB games over the past two seasons for the Rays and Indians, playing six different positions. He is a natural middle infielder with the ability to play center field, and he now profiles as the latest in a revolving door of utility types competing for a bench role in Orioles camp.