The Orioles’ young catching phenom Adley Rutschman will be generating a ton of interest for however long he’s in major league camp this spring. But his length of stay at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota is anyone’s guess because it’s a foregone conclusion that he will not be heading north with the O’s.
TMZ Sports bumped into Rutschman at the airport earlier this month and he took the opportunity to say he’s angling for a promotion to the big leagues this year. Yet he was only drafted last June.
A look at his minor league numbers from last summer show a .774 OPS in 37 games spread across three levels of the Orioles’ farm system. He got his feet wet in the Gulf Coast League, where he put up a .143/.250/.357 batting line in five games. Then he moved up to Aberdeen, where he slashed .325/.413/.481 in 20 games. At his final stop, Delmarva, he cooled off at the plate to the tune of .154/.261/.333 over 12 games.
As I’m sure the vast majority of you agree, there is no reason to rush Adley at this point. Especially when you take into account MLB service time rules and the current competitive state of the team. But it’s still good to hear a top overall pick setting lofty goals like getting to the bigs within a year of being drafted.
With that in mind, it’s worth taking a look back to see how other first round catchers have fared in their race to the majors.
Looking back more than 20 years at Baltimore’s draft history, there have only been three catchers selected in the first round since 1997, excluding Rutschman.
Both Jayson Werth in 1997 and Brandon Snyder in 2005 were drafted out of high school, having been selected 22nd and 13th overall, respectively. But the more apt comparison to Rutschman would be option number three, Matt Wieters, who was taken 5th overall in 2007 out of college at Georgia Tech.
Wieters put up video game numbers while climbing through the Orioles’ farm system. He did not play for an Orioles’ affiliate the same year he was drafted, but instead he participated in Hawaiian Winter Baseball that offseason.
Between Frederick and Bowie in 2008, Wieters hit .355/.454/.600 with a 1.053 OPS, 27 home runs, and 82 walks versus only 76 strikeouts in 130 total games. Then he spent about two months (39 games) in Norfolk to start the 2009 season, hitting .305/.387/.504, before earning a promotion to Baltimore on May 29 of that year.
While playing for the Orioles from 2009-2016, Wieters compiled a .739 OPS and 99 OPS+. He is well-remembered and certainly has his place in Birdland history, but here’s to hoping that Adley Rutschman sets the bar even higher for Orioles catchers drafted in the first round.
Not counting Rutschman, there have been 10 catchers taken in the first round of the MLB draft since 2015. And unlike Rutschman, three of those 10 catchers were drafted out of high school: Tyler Stephenson, 2015, Kennesaw Mountain HS; Anthony Siegler, 2018, Carterville HS; and Bo Naylor, 2018, St. Joan of Arc Catholic SS.
In terms of college catchers, the Reds took Tyler Stephenson 11th overall and the Angels selected Taylor Ward 26th in 2015. Stephenson has a .740 OPS across five minor league seasons and spent last year in Double-A. It took Ward a bit under four seasons to earn a promotion to the show in August 2018. He’s appeared in 60 games for the Angels the past two years combined, hitting .181/.256/.333 over that time span.
There were three catchers taken in the first round of the 2016 draft and all three made it to the bigs in 2019. The Dodgers Will Smith (32nd overall) broke out last season, putting up a .907 OPS with 15 home runs in 54 games. But on the flip side, Angels 16th overall pick Matt Thaiss only managed a .714 OPS in 53 games in the show and White Sox 10th overall pick Zack Collins only had a .656 OPS in 27 games.
All three first round catchers from the 2018 draft class have yet to reach the majors. Joey Bart (Giants, 2nd overall) played at Double-A last season and hit .316/.368/.544, but Anthony Siegler (Yankees, 23rd) and Bo Naylor (Indians, 29th) have only made it as far as Single-A with their respective organizations.
Other than Rutschman, there were two backstops taken in the first round of the draft last year. In 2019, Shea Langeliers (Braves, 9th) hit .255/.310/.343 with a .652 OPS in 54 games in Single-A and Korey Lee (Astros, 32nd) hit .268/.359/.371 with a .730 OPS in 64 games in short season Single-A. Adley has both of them beat in the OPS department.
Hopefully the wait — however long it is — is worth it for a prospect as talented and hyped as Rutschman.