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Know Your Orioles 40-man: Adley Rutschman

A new Orioles ad campaign says simply: “He’s here.”

Tampa Bay Rays v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Chris Bernacchi/Diamond Images via Getty Images

Over the offseason, Camden Chat published an article about each member of the Orioles 40-man roster. During the 2022 season, we will update on new arrivals after they make it to the roster.

How he arrived: Drafted by the Orioles with #1 overall pick in 2019 draft, contract selected 5/21/22

Who left: Anthony Bemboom designated for assignment 5/21/22

Ever since the Orioles drafted Adley Rutschman at the top of the 2019 draft, his eventual MLB debut had felt to me like an appointment that could not be missed. The team was truly determined to test how many Orioles fans felt similarly, with its morning-of-debut announcement of the move that would take place on the same day as the Preakness in Baltimore. Perhaps you imagined a cheering, sellout crowd, or something close to it. The Orioles drew 17,573 fans to Rutschman’s debut game. My dad and I were two of them.

I have had this “I need to be there to see the start of something big” feeling about two previous prospect debuts. You can guess them easily. Those were Matt Wieters and Manny Machado. As it turned out, Wieters’s debut was not all that close to the end of the dark years. His 2009 rookie season, as well as the next two years, were bad for the Orioles. Machado made a more immediate impact, or arrived at the right time: The 2012 Orioles went 33-18 after he debuted. Time will tell us which of these better describes the impact of Rutschman’s arrival.

The hype around Rutschman has been continual for close to four years now. Even before it was clear that the 2018 Orioles were the unique brand of terrible that would earn them the #1 pick the next year, Rutschman was among the top names on the imagined draft boards of people whose job it is to know amateur prospects. His whole last season of college baseball was performed under that pressure. He met it at every turn, something that Mike Elias cited in Rutschman’s favor after drafting the switch-hitting catcher.

This has only continued since Rutschman joined the organization. Not getting to play due to the pandemic-canceled minor league season in 2020 did not even pause the hype. This just prevented fans from seeing Rutschman build gaudy stat lines as he ascended the minors.

That resumed when the minors resumed in 2021. He was so much better than the competition at Double-A that they just kept walking him. Rutschman walked 55 times in 80 games on the way to a .271/.392/.509 batting line at the level. The inevitable promotion to Triple-A Norfolk didn’t slow him down any. In the remaining 43 games for Norfolk, he batted .312/.405/.490. The dude was ready and only MLB’s roster rules creating an incentive against aggressive MLB promotions for prospects on bad teams delayed his arrival.

In the meantime, the prospect writers of the baseball media world were engaged in something of an unofficial competition as to who could best encompass Rutschman’s talent. The 2021 preseason report from Eric Longenhagen at FanGraphs has always stood as my favorite of this genre:

Rutschman is the total package, a physical monster who also has superlative baseball acumen and leadership qualities. ... His entire profile is ideal. It’s rare for ambidextrous swingers to have polished swings from both sides of the plate, and even more so to have two nearly identical, rhythmic swings that produce power. It’s more atypical still for that type of hitter to be a great defender at a premium position. ... Rutschman has the physical tools to become the best catcher in baseball.

All of these are things that are going to show up in the statistics compiled by Rutschman. If he could do it like they say, we’d see that. At Bowie and Norfolk last year, we did. That’s an exciting paragraph, but the reason I still remember that FG scouting report is because of its conclusion, which directly addressed the “We’ve heard all this before about Wieters and he wasn’t that” notion:

I realize readers will have Matt Wieters flashbacks because Rutchsman’s frame and switch-hitting, upright stance are dead ringers for Wieters’, but this guy’s blood courses through his veins at a much different temperature.

What does that even mean? Blood temperature? They didn’t put that one on the back of any of our baseball cards growing up, and although Statcast tracks a whole lot of things about baseball player performance that could not be quantified before, it’s not tracking that either. Even now I chuckle about this, though I certainly hope Longenhagen is correct.

On Sunday afternoon, in Rutschman’s second career MLB game, I thought about this sentence again. Having caught the night game of his debut, Rutschman was the designated hitter in his second game. The particular substitutions made as the Orioles rallied to tie the game led to Rutschman moving from DH to catcher for extra innings.

The automatic runner on second base (or Manfred Man as I like to call it, after the commissioner who gave it to us) means every extra inning starts out a little hairy. The tenth inning got hairier still for reliever Cionel Pérez after a leadoff single put the go-ahead run only 90 feet away with nobody out. Pérez rallied for two clutch strikeouts to get to the point where any kind of out would do to end the inning with no danger of the run still scoring. For Orioles fans used to failure over the last few years, this was something new and exciting.

Rutschman was also excited. The MASN cameras caught him meeting up with Pérez after the escape artist act. It’s hard to say who was more fired up between Rutschman and Pérez. Broadcaster Kevin Brown made a joke about how you couldn’t really tell whose neck veins were more pronounced. The catcher and reliever repeated this scene after the eleventh inning, when an intentional walk and a regular walk loaded the bases with two outs before Pérez got the final out.

Was this intensity part of how the Orioles escaped those innings unscathed and eventually were able to pick up their third walkoff win in four games? I’m sure it didn’t hurt. Maybe Pérez also has different blood temperature.

Four games into Rutschman’s career, the feeling that this was the start of something special has not faded for me yet. It would have been nice if his arrival had some kind of Hollywood touch to it, like the Orioles going on a 20-game winning streak wherein Rutschman himself hit 12 home runs or something.

We’re not getting that, since the Orioles lost Rutschman’s debut even though Rutschman got a triple for his first MLB hit - like Wieters and Machado before him. He’s only one player arriving onto a roster full of holes, and he probably needs a little time to adjust to MLB competition anyway, just like other top prospects who didn’t get hurt in spring training, made their team Opening Day rosters, and struggled a lot in April and May.

Maybe Rutschman have adjusted by the time Grayson Rodriguez arrives, and then we can start getting excited all over again. After the last four seasons we’ve had around here, Orioles fans deserve to dream a little bit. Now that Rutschman is here, the dreams feel closer to reality.

Still to come: No one, for now