How quickly things can change. Heading into the weekend, Orioles fans were riding high. The team hadn’t lost a series in two weeks, it had just beaten the ever-contending Cardinals, and faced a three-game set with the lowly Tigers. Baseball was once again fun in Charm City. But an unceremonious sweep in Detroit quickly changed that tune. All at once, the fanbase was transported back to this reality where the Orioles remain in the waiting room.
It’s not as if this was news to Orioles fans. They get that the team is going to do the bare minimum at the major league level until the prospects are deemed “ready.” There has been genuine buy-in from fans towards GM Mike Elias’s plan for years now. But understanding does not have to lead to universal satisfaction, and it’s completely legitimate to be over the rebuild blues at this point.
Thankfully, that rebuild is nearing a crucial turn. Kyle Bradish’s big league debut felt like an important moment, and he has impressed to this point. Adley Rutschman and D.L. Hall are (as of this writing) working away in Triple-A after their season’s were delayed by injury. And they are joined by Grayson Rodriguez, the sport’s top pitching prospect, who is dominating lineups made up of hitters five years older than him.
That said, the patience of Orioles fans is starting to wear thin. Exciting prospect reports are fun, but watching them play at Camden Yards on a summer night is much preferred. While the Orioles had yet to announce anything, a ground swell on social media over the weekend echoed a similar message: “Announce Adley.”
A handful of other teams took advantage of MLB’s new incentives for doing so and promoted their high-profile prospects back on Opening Day. The Orioles had no such decision to make as Rutschman and Hall were sidelined at the time and Rodriguez had yet to pitch in Triple-A. So instead, we wait. It is unclear at this point why we are waiting, though.
Rutschman has now played in 16 games across all levels this year. That seems like enough to determine if his forearm is healed, yeah? If not, then he probably shouldn’t be playing in games at all.
The catcher had previously shown that he can handle Triple-A pitching. Over 43 games last year, he slashed .312/.405/.490 with a 142 wRC+ in Norfolk. His line in nine games this year isn’t terribly sexy (.194/.359/.290, 92 wRC+), but he is not getting overpowered and he is walking 15.4% of the time. Small sample sizes sometimes produce wacky outcomes.
You can make arguments easy enough when it comes to Rodriguez and Hall that it makes sense to keep them in Norfolk a bit longer. The big league pitching staff has been solid, it’s easier to control a minor league environment, you want to protect their arm, and so on. But there aren’t any logical points when it comes to Rutschman. He is the best catcher in the organization. He has been for some time. The current backstops in the Orioles daily lineup are awful (-0.6 fWAR). And it’s not as if Rutschman is a kid. He’s 24 years old, and he’s ready. It’s time to get him a big league look.
Outside of the catcher position, however, fans will have to exercise further patience.
The Orioles do not currently employ a capable big league second or third baseman. At both positions, they rank as one of the least productive groups in MLB. Rylan Bannon, one piece of the Manny Machado trade in 2018, was promoted this week, and will seemingly be given the chance to play meaningful innings at the hot corner. But he is admittedly a lower tier prospect and not viewed as a long-term solution.
Gunnar Henderson is the heir apparent at third, and he is absolutely crushing the ball in Double-A Bowie (.293/.453/.485, 165 wRC+), but he hasn’t even turned 21 yet, and it seems like the Orioles want everyone to make a lengthy pit stop in Norfolk before they come up to Baltimore anyway.
Injuries have also eroded opportunities for some of the club’s well-known youngsters. Terrin Vavra, a utility-man type with a chance to stick at second, has not played since April 20 with a hamstring injury. Yusniel Diaz has also battled a hamstring injury, souring what had been a torrid (.934 OPS) start to the year in Norfolk.
Elsewhere, performance caveats apply. Kyle Stowers is striking out less but he is also getting on base far less often. Jordan Westburg is finally turning things around after a slow start. Joey Ortiz is coming off a season-ending injury and still trying to re-find his power. You get the idea. Some players simply aren’t ready for the next level just yet.
And you know what, that’s OK. Fans get it. They are along for the ride, and they don’t want the Orioles to force any young player to Baltimore—or any level for that matter—before they are ready. The process needs to play out in full if it is going to work at all. We have gone this far, we may as well see it through to its conclusion.
But the Orioles fanbase also isn’t dumb. They know when a player is ready. They can look around the league and see what other clubs are doing with players at a similar point in their careers. Give us Rutschman and allow the rest of the farm system to keep coming down the Elias pipeline.