Every year as the regular baseball season ends, Camden Chat writers get their assignments for the off-season player reviews. Every year, I hope I’ll get the best player instead of a bunch of duds. And this year, I think I did.
Sure, Gunnar Henderson had an incredible rookie season and one could argue that he had the best individual season on the team. You’ll get to read about him tomorrow. For my money, though, the best player on the team is Adley Rutschman. He’s the face of the team, the team leader, and he’s a heck of a ballplayer.
From the time he was drafted first overall in 2019, Rutschman has had sky-high expectations set upon him. And he has risen to the occasion every time. Last year he made his major league debut, this year he made his first All-Star game. He picked up his first Silver Slugger award. He even landed in the top 10 of MVP voting. He also solidified himself as the best hugger in the game. What’s not to like about Adley Rutschman?
Fans already knew they loved Adley when the season started. With his debut in 2022 also came the resurgence of the Orioles as a relevant baseball team. He immediately reminded everyone why he is so lauded as he went 5-for-5 on Opening Day with the team’s first home run of the year.
From the start of the season, Rutschman’s on-base skills were incredible. He showed plate discipline that hasn’t been seen in Baltimore in years and he got through the first two months of the season with a .411 OBP. He paired that with eight home runs and seven doubles through his first 55 games.
His early returns made him a favorite to be voted into the All-Star game, but a June swoon coincided with MLB’s rules to make the top vote-getters “finalists’ who had to compete head-to-head for the starting spot in a final vote. Rutschman lost the starting gig to Jonah Heim.
Despite making the team as a reserve rather than a starter, it felt like he was showing the world he was a star at the event. First, he hit the red carpet in his pink statement suit, adorably escorting his mother and sister.
Then he participated in the Home Run Derby. It seemed like an odd choice for a guy with just 12 home runs at the break. He was the last seed. But with his father pitching to him, Rutschman put on a show. He started hitting bombs from the left side and, after a time-out, wowed the crowd by switching over to his right side for the rest of his time. He didn’t win but he made his mark.
The Orioles were very careful with Rutschman’s workload behind the plate throughout the year, but he rarely got a day off. Most days that he wasn’t catching, he was in the lineup as the designated hitter. I am sure this helped keep Rutschman fresh but the lack of complete off days was, in my opinion, somewhat harmful after a time. He struggled at the plate leading up to the All-Star break and while he looked better just after, July and August were markedly worse for him than April and May.
Then came September. It looked increasingly obvious that the Orioles were going to the postseason but the fight for the division was ongoing. Rutschman took September by storm, putting up an OPS of .922 over the final month. He hit four home runs and nine doubles, and he picked up 20 walks.
He was a big part of why the Orioles were able to stay on top of the standings and get to 101 wins. He was also, sadly, a reason of why they were unable to get any wins in the Division Series against the Rangers; in three games he went just 1-for-12.
Rutschman’s season overall was a bit worse than his debut in 2022. Because of that, some of us have this irrational nagging that his 2023 was a disappointment. In 2022, Rutschman’s batting average, on-base %, and slugging were all slightly higher, though his OPS+ was nearly the same.
He also was notably less solid on defense. His Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) came in at just two when last year he picked up 18 in fewer games. And his caught stealing % went from an impressive 31% in 2022 to basically league average (22%) in 2023.
I didn’t feel that disappointment. Rutschman’s fWAR came in at 5.1, making him tops on the Orioles and a top 10 position player in the American League. In addition to being the best-hitting catcher in the American League, he was also shepherding a young pitching staff through a very long season where nearly everyone, including Rutschman himself, was playing in more games in a season than they ever had before.
Adley Rutschman is the best player on an incredibly talented Orioles team. He’s got superstar potential and he’s comfortable with the spotlight. He will lead this team for years to come and I can’t wait to see it.
2023 player reviews: Ryan McKenna, Jacob Webb, Austin Voth/Keegan Akin, Adam Frazier, Jack Flaherty, Shintaro Fujinami, Aaron Hicks, Bryan Baker, Jorge Mateo, Kyle Gibson, John Means, DL Hall, Jordan Westburg, James McCann, Ryan O’Hearn, Mike Baumann, Ramón Urías, Cole Irvin, Ryan Mountcastle, Danny Coulombe, Tyler Wells, Cionel Pérez, Austin Hays, Yennier Cano, Dean Kremer, Cedric Mullins, Anthony Santander, Grayson Rodriguez, Félix Bautista, Kyle Bradish
Tomorrow: Gunnar Henderson