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For the Orioles, Adley Rutschman represents much more than just a power bat

The Orioles no. 1 prospect has brought out the best in Norfolk pitching staff since his promotion to Triple-A, pointing towards a bright future in Baltimore.

2018 NCAA Division I Men’s Baseball Championship - Game 3
Adley Rutschman encourages his Oregon State Beavers teammate, pitcher Kevin Abel, in a matchup against Arkansas on June 28, 2018.
Photo by Justin Tafoya/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

So I was commiserating about the Orioles’ pitiful performance with a friend recently, talking about when we might see this team turn the corner. Neither of us had a good answer.

Has this season been scary? Yes. But we’re going to be through it soon.

Once my friend and I started talking about the Birds in the context of next year, the discussion turned to Adley Rutschman, naturally. He brought up the fact that Norfolk’s starting staff, on the whole, has responded favorably to Rutschman. He said I should look into it further and I said, ‘I just might do that’.

As manager Brandon Hyde and GM Mike Elias keep iterating, now is a time of evaluation for this organization. That includes turning our attention to promising aspects like the minor league system.

Exhibit A: Adley Rutschman.

So what has Rutschman done this season? Well, he had 18 home runs and a triple-slash line of .271/.392/.508 in 80 games with the Baysox. And he’s hit even better with the Tides, putting up a .330/.425/.528 batting line through 30 games. Between those two levels of the minor leagues, Rutschman is hitting .286/.399/.510.

With offensive numbers like those, it’s easy to forget about Adley’s work behind the plate. But it should be noted how impressive his defense and leadership skills have proven to be. O’s fans have had to put up with spotty work behind the dish for several years in a row, so it’s easy to dream of Rutschman’s impact on pitcher performance and the Orioles’ defense.

MLB Pipeline lists Rutschman’s arm and fielding skills at 60 and 65, respectively, on the scout’s grading scale of 20-80. The following excerpt is from MLB Pipeline’s 2021 entry on Rustchman:

His already-plus defense also got better in his first full year of pro ball as he acclimated well to working with high-level pitching talent. He knows how to call a game, works very well with pitchers and has soft hands and excellent agility behind the dish. He couples that with a very strong arm, which should help to control the running game and is already exhibiting the kind of leadership teams covet from a big league backstop, something he should be in the very near future.

The Orioles promoted Adley Rutschman from Double-A Bowie to Triple-A Norfolk on August 10 of this year. He’s started behind the plate in 22 of 30 games since joining the Tides, with Brett Cumberland and Nick Ciuffo working in from time to time as well. But if you look at pitching performances when Rutschman is receiving, the young catcher has had a profound effect on multiple pitchers during his relatively short time at Triple-A.

The first example is Dean Kremer, who’s had a largely forgettable 2021 campaign. He’s got a 5.40 ERA in 14 appearances with the Tides. But in four appearances with Rutschman as his battery mate, Kremer has a 3.00 ERA in 15 innings pitched. That includes three starts in which Kremer pitched at least four innings and allowed a run or less.

More recently, Kremer was recalled from Triple-A and allowed five runs in four innings on September 11. The right-hander was optioned back to Norfolk the following day. Maybe part of the problem was no Adley behind the plate for Baltimore.

Starting pitcher Kyle Bradish, acquired a couple of years ago from the Angels in the Dylan Bundy trade, has also performed well with Rutschman catching. In six games since August 10, Kyle Bradish has a 4.98 ERA. Rutschman was behind the plate for four of those appearances — two starts and two relief outings — during which Bradish has a 2.25 ERA.

Kevin Smith, acquired last summer from the Mets, is the exception to the Rutschman pattern. He has a 5.68 ERA at Norfolk so this year, and in four outings with Rutschman catching that number is 8.04 ERA. But he’s also been prone to the long ball, allowing eight home runs since August 10.

Mike Baumann is currently with Baltimore, but he also performed well in tandem with Rutschman at Norfolk. In his two most recent starts for the Tides, the righty tossed five scoreless innings and six innings of one-run ball. That comes out to a 0.82 ERA in 11 innings pitched. His walk-to-strikeout ratio during that time was 3:12.

As we wait for a brighter Orioles future, at least we can take comfort in having such a well-rounded no. 1 prospect. Defense, leadership, and intangibles are just a few things that make Rutschman more than a one-dimensional offensive threat. Can’t wait to see him continue to grow and make his debut in Baltimore.