Of course, it’s a day that baseball fans in Baltimore and beyond have been looking forward to for some time. Even before he was a member of the Orioles organization, Rutschman was enthralling the baseball world with his performance at Oregon State, shooting the draft boards and considered by many to be the best player available in the 2019 draft. America, for example, gave him the top spot that year, with their report noting that the switch-hitting catcher basically had all the skills needed to succeed in the future. Hitting for average, hitting for power, taking steps, strong arm, good reception and counter, he had all the tools except speed, which is hardly surprising for a receiver. “He’s the best catch prospect since Buster Posey in 2008 and Matt Wieter in 2007,” concludes their report.
Although there have been reports that the O’s are considering other players with the first overall selection in the 2019 draft, such as Bobby Witt Jr., Andrew Vaughn and JJ Bleday, it never seemed like there was much chance of someone impersonating Rutschman. When the big day finally arrived, Rutschman was indeed the first player to leave the board.
Due to the big league club’s struggles, Rutschman instantly became the light at the end of the tunnel for Baltimore fans. The Orioles finished last in the AL East in 2017 and 2018, and were repeating that feat when Rutschman was drafted in 2019. They somehow overtook the Red Sox and took fourth place in the shortened 2020 season. , but were back in the basement in 2021, and also posted baseball’s worst record again (tied with the Diamondbacks). That means they once again have the first overall draft selection this summer. With nothing inspiring happening at the big league level, all hopes were pinned on the stars of the farm system who would make up the Orioles’ next big team, with Rutschman front and center.
Baseball America ranked Rutschman the fifth-best prospect in all of baseball in 2021, then propelled him to second last year and first this year. He is also considered baseball’s hottest prospect by FanGraphs, ESPN’s Kiley McDaniels and The Athletic’s Keith Law.
It was an atypical rise in the minors for the 24-year-old. It started off pretty normal, with Rutschman playing 37 games in the lower tiers of the Orioles system in the months after the draft. But the pandemic wiped out the minor leagues in 2020, meaning he couldn’t play in any official organized games. But this missed season hasn’t slowed him down, as his 2021 has proven the hype to be real. In 123 games between Double-A and Triple-A, he hit 23 homers and produced a .285/.397/.502 overall batting line, walking at a 14.5% rate and hitting only 16.6% of the time . All of this adds up to a wRC+ of 144, which is 44% better than the league average.
The Orioles haven’t done much to block his path to the big leagues this offseason. Seekers who got playing time behind the plate in 2021 have all been dropped from the roster. Pedro Severino, austin wynn and Nick Ciuffo were all downright at the end of the season and Luck Sisco was claimed on waivers by the Mets. There was a time during the offseason when the club actually had no receivers on the 40-man roster, although they did eventually sign Robinson Chirinos be in the mix.
Once the new collective bargaining agreement was agreed to and the lockout ended in March, it looked like there was a chance that Rutschman could crack the opening day roster. The new CBA included incentives to try to discourage teams from retaining their best prospects in the minors at the start of a season in order to manipulate their service time and gain an extra year of control over their serves. Unfortunately, Rutschman suffered a triceps strain in mid-March that put him on the shelf for a few weeks, ending any chance he would be ready for the season opener. After recovering from that injury, he made his 2022 debut at the minors on April 26 and has spent the past four weeks getting back into shape. In 19 games this year across three different levels, he’s hit .309/.427/.515, 159 wRC+, walking in 13.4% of his plate appearances while knocking out just 8.5% of them.
There are approximately 137 days left in the season, which means he won’t be able to accumulate the 172 days needed to count as a full year. There’s a provision in the new CBA that grants a full year of service time to the top two finishers when voting for Rookie of the Year, though it’s hard for Rutschman to go that route now, given that his competitors in this race are six weeks ahead of him. Jeremy Pena has already produced 1.8 wins above replacement, according to FanGraphs, with various other rookies sitting at 0.8, such as Bobby Witt Jr. and Julio Rodriguez. Assuming Rutschman isn’t able to catch up and finishes this season with less than a year of service time, the O’s will control his serves through the 2028 season, although he has a very good chance. to qualify for arbitration after the 2024 season as a Super Two player. (The Super Two threshold moves from year to year, but has only been above 2.137 three times since 2009, with the last instance being in 2012.) Now that it has hit the big time, the club will hope that he and the other prospects that are yet to come will help the Orioles begin to turn the page on rebuilding to competition over the next few years.
With Rutschman injured to start the year, the club selected Bemboom’s contract, pairing him with Chirinos as the club’s catching duo. In 22 games this year, he’s hit a measly 0.115/0.207/0.212. With no options left, the club had no choice but to nominate him for a posting to make room for their star prospect. Bemboom will probably hit the waiver wire in the next few days and see if there is another club in the league that is interested in his services.
Image courtesy of USA Today Sports.
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