Inbox: Where will Rutschman play next year?

Beat reporter Joe Trezza answers questions from fans

October 28th, 2019

This is a decision the Orioles probably haven’t finalized yet, but the smart money is on the top overall pick in the 2019 MLB Draft, Adley Rutschman, either beginning the year in Class A Delmarva or Class A Advanced Frederick, with the expectation that he could rise quickly from either if his production warrants it. No other catcher in the system is going to stand in Rutschman’s way, but there are logistical elements that could affect where the Orioles initially slot him.

The Orioles drafted three catchers in the first 10 rounds last year, remember, so perhaps they will try to devise a way for Rutschman, Maverick Handley (6th round) and Jordan Cannon (10th round) to all play every day. That would probably require Rutschman starting at Frederick, along with top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez. It would also make sense given the assumption that No. 29 prospect Brett Cumberland returns to Double-A Bowie out of camp. That said, Rutschman’s development is going to drive these decisions, not anyone else’s.

(Rutschman notwithstanding, the Orioles have some organizational restructuring to do this winter with regards to their catching. They ended the season with seven backstops on the roster at Frederick, none of whom are prospects. They are also expected to acquire some veteran depth for Triple-A after ’s mid-summer departure from the organization, given that and currently profile as their lone options at that level).

Last year, Rutschman got his feet wet in the Gulf Coast League before jumping two levels in the span of two months, finishing the year with the Shorebirds for their stretch run. Like last year, where he finishes 2020 is more important than where he starts. If all goes right, I’m thinking Double-A Bowie.

That depends on if/when the Orioles try to deal him, and what the market looks like at that exact time, so it’s hard to say for sure. But we can look through recent history for some potential comparisons. And since you asked, I did.

The thing is, several similar corner outfielder/first base types have been traded in recent years, but none of those deals perfectly reflect what a trade would look like given his production and service time (way more often, such players receive extensions). So none of these are perfect, but let’s outline them anyway:

was probably closest skill-wise, but by the time the Tigers traded him to the Cubs last summer, his contract situation was incomparable to Mancini’s. Castellanos was an impending free agent, while Mancini is under team control through 2022.

had two years of control left when the rebuilding Marlins shipped him to the Cardinals in December 2017, netting four prospects including . But he was coming off a career year that was nearly twice as valuable per WAR than Mancini’s 2019 season, and he had a better track record of production.

to the Braves in 2013? Well, Upton was three years younger, coming off a down year and still seen as a potential five-tool player.

from the Rays to the D-backs in 2017? Like Mancini, he was a bat-first corner-type with three-plus years of team control remaining. But Mancini is a better offensive player, and he means more to the Orioles.

For the best comparison, we may have to go all the way back to the Astros in 2010, before their famous rebuild under Mike Elias’ old boss Jeff Luhnow had even begun. That July, then-GM Ed Wade traded to the Phillies.

Pence was 28 years old, in his second year of arbitration and in the middle of an All-Star season in which he did this:

.314/.370/.502, 139 OPS+, 25 HR, 91 RBI, 140 wRC+, 4.3 fWAR

Mancini is first-year arb eligible this winter, coming off an age 27-season in which he did this:

.291/.364/.535, 135 OPS+, 35 HR, 97 RBI, 132 wRC+, 3.6 fWAR

That’s not exact, and the trade landscape has evolved considerably over the past decade, but it’s pretty close. The Astros waited until the Deadline and acquired what was then considered a prospect haul in return from playoff-bound Philadelphia: , , and . Singleton and Cosart were the prizes at the time, though neither made it in Houston, and Domingo Santana blossomed into a productive big leaguer elsewhere.

The trade really didn’t work out for either side, as the suddenly-rebuilding Phillies shipped Pence to San Francisco in a salary dump the next summer. But that’s not the point.

It certainly looks like it would be in relief, so I can definitely see Hunter Harvey eventually assuming that ninth-inning role. He has the mentality for it, and it’s not like there are a ton of other guys back there with better credentials. Manager Brandon Hyde said repeatedly how he wanted to give Harvey a taste of closing before the reliever was shut down last September. It never happened, in part because the Orioles didn’t have many late-inning leads when Harvey was active during that final month.

This will become much clearer after teams decide which prospects to move to the 40-man rosters and protect from the Rule 5 Draft. The deadline to do that is November 20. Until then, we can guess. But it’s a bit of a fool’s errand: Each team has at least two to three bubble guys they could go either way with.