The 2022 season can be summed up as The Year of Adley Rutschman for Orioles fans. Picked first overall out of Oregon State back in 2019, the catcher came out of college with huge expectations and the ambitions of an entire franchise on his shoulders. It almost seemed impossible for a player to live up to that kind of hype. But in his rookie season he did just that, serving as the single biggest reason why the team pulled off a 30-win turnaround and now looks poised to become a threat in the American League.
But before all of that positivity could take place, Rutschman’s season started on a low note. A triceps injury suffered in mid-March dashed any hopes of Rutschman making the Opening Day roster. Instead, he had to rehab in Sarasota, and then make pit stops in Aberdeen, Bowie, and Norfolk prior to finally being promoted to Baltimore on May 21.
The Orioles really could have used him in the season’s first month-and-a-half. The team had gone 16-24 up to that point while sporting arguably the worst catching duo in baseball with Robinson Chirinos and Anthony Bemboom. The upgrade to Rutschman was dramatic.
Production at the plate may not have been immediate, though. In fact, Rutschman struggled to a .137/.228/.196 batting line through his first 13 big league games. But the rookie brought an energy and a defensive prowess that was sorely needed.
Rutschman graded out in the upper quartile of all catchers with regards to pop time and framing. He threw out 11 of 36 base stealers and accumulated 18 defensive runs saved. Catcher defense can be tough to quantify, but Rutschman’s excellence behind the plate cannot be denied.
Eventually, his bat came around as well. His OPS jumped from .529 in May to .775 in June, .859 in July, .842 in August, and .851 in September/October. He posted a 133 wRC+ for the season, the second-highest (behind Atlanta’s William Contreras) of any catcher with at least 300 plate appearances. Among that same group, Rutschman was in the top five for wOBA (.354), OBP (.362), and walk rate (13.8%). He’s probably not the game’s best offensive catcher yet...but he’s awfully close.
You pair that sort of elite bat with a top tier glove and what seems to be off-the-charts intangibles, it’s clear why scouts and fans alike were giddy about Rutschman’s big league future.
All of that culminated with Rutschman being named a finalist for AL Rookie of the Year, alongside Seattle’s Julio Rodriguez and Cleveland’s Steven Kwan. The favorite to the win the award is likely Rodriguez, but Rutschman could finish second, which would earn him a full year of service time, something that the aforementioned triceps injury had denied him up to this point.
Nominations for year-end awards are likely to become an annual tradition for Rutschman, along with regular all-star trips. He is that good and well-rounded, although he may have to settle for a podium finish in 2022.
The Orioles have a franchise cornerstone on their hands in Rutschman. Barring injury, he will find himself in the upper half of the team’s lineup and starting behind the plate most days for the next half-decade. Whether the Orioles want him to be a fixture even longer than that is a discussion worth having.
Around the league, it has become fashionable to sign young players to long-term deals early in their careers, buying out their years of arbitration and then tacking on a few would-be free agent seasons. In August, Seattle signed Rodriguez to a complicated extension that could be as short as seven years and as long as 17 years with the value varying widely based on MVP voting.
The Orioles are not going to sign Rutschman, a catcher that is nearly three years older than Rodriguez, to a 17-year contract. But something around 10 years could make sense for both sides, security for Rutschman and assurance for the Orioles.
It’s worth noting that signing Rutschman to a long-term pact should not prevent the O’s from doing something similar with the likes of Gunnar Henderson, Grayson Rodriguez, or Colton Cowser if they see fit. The Atlanta Braves just handed out extensions to Michael Harris and Austin Riley within 10 days of one another, three years after doing something similar for Ronald Acuña Jr. and Ozzie Albies. Good teams lock up multiple quality youngsters. The Orioles should do the same for what appears to be a generational talent.
Previous 2022 Orioles player reviews: Bruce Zimmermann, Robinson Chirinos, Joey Krehbiel, Tyler Nevin, Nick Vespi/Logan Gillaspie, Spenser Watkins, Rougned Odor, Ryan McKenna, Kyle Bradish, Austin Hays, Keegan Akin, Ryan Mountcastle, Anthony Santander, Jordan Lyles, Bryan Baker, Tyler Wells, Austin Voth, Jorge Mateo, Dean Kremer, Cionel Pérez, Cedric Mullins, Ramón Urías, Dillon Tate
Tomorrow: Félix Bautista