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  • Writer's pictureGrant DeVivo

OTD in 2019: Adley Rutschman Signs with the Orioles

Updated: Jul 7

A reflection on Adley's journey through the Minors to becoming Birdland's beloved backstop

*Cover Photo Credit: John Topoleski


Nobody wants to remember the Orioles' hideous 2018 season in which their 47-115 record sparked a busy and pain-staking rebuild. However, the benefit of having the worst record in baseball that year is that they got a highly-anticipated first overall pick in the 2019 draft the following year.


They used it wisely. As predicted, they landed Oregon State University standout, catcher Adley Rutschman, first overall. The 2018 College World Series champion and switch-hitting freak took home both the Golden Spikes award and the PAC-12 Player of the Year award not long before the Orioles got him. All throughout college he was praised for how he handled the Beavers' pitching staff, and he was considered one of the best framing catchers in college baseball at the time.


Five years ago today, he officially signed the papers to become a member of the Orioles organization. The journey of Adley Rutschman had begun.


Five years ago today, heroic phenom and 2019 first overall pick Adley Rutschman signed with the Orioles. Photo: The Baltimore Banner

This pick was important as it was a similar pick that the Orioles made in 2007 when they took switch-hitting catcher Matt Wieters fifth overall out of Georgia Tech. Wieters put together eight solid seasons with the Orioles, and he helped revolutionize and rebuild a struggling Orioles franchise back into the postseason and back into talks wide across the nation. Yet, so many people forget about his true impact because of constant complaining about how Wieters never panned out as the special "Mauer with power" or "Jesus in cleats," yet he still compiled an All-Star career. The Rutschman panorama was the same as it was with Wieters, but this pick brought some questions. Two switch-hitting catching prodigies, would one be better than the other? Would Adley make the same sort of impact that Wieters did? Or perhaps, would Rutschman make an even bigger impact than Wieters did? Rutschman's journey to the big leagues lasted all but a little over two years as he progressed quickly through every level of the Minors. Before you knew it, he had settled behind home plate at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, rising as one of the best catchers that the game of baseball has seen in recent years.


Let us dive a little deeper into the brief Minor League journey that Rutschman took get to where he is today as an All-Star catcher for the Birds.


2019

It was quite ceremonious the night when Rutschman officially joined the organization. He signed the papers with vice president of baseball operations Mike Elias watching beside him. He took swings with the big league club during batting practice. Fans were already swarming the phenom for autographs and selfies, and he signed away. He was introduced to the fans for the first time and though the crowd may have been small, they seeminlgy made more noise than they did for Manny Machado, who was back in Baltimore that same night but with the San Diego Padres organization.


As the celebration winded down, it was soon time for Rutschman to get to work. His first stop was rookie ball, the Gulf Coast League Orioles. In his first game, he went 1-for-4 but got off to a thunderous start with a long ball in his first professional baseball game.


Rutschman only ended up going 2-for-16 (.143) in rookie ball, but the Orioles did not want to waste anytime in keeping him down there. So after just 5 rookie ball contests, he was bumped to the Ironbirds, who were then the Low-A affiliate. That way, Rutschman could begin a chemistry with the younger arms in the system as they all began to grow and develop with each other over the years. He officially debuted for the Ironbirds on July 27.


Adley Rutschman with the Ironbirds in 2019. Photo: John Topoleski

The panorama in Aberdeen was real, and fans were ecstatic to have the first overall pick playing in their home city. Rutschman gave them a treat by hitting .325 with a homer and 7 doubles in 20 games. He collected 15 RBI while drawing 12 walks which contributed to a .413 OBP. Rutschman hit Low-A pitching very well, and he was quickly promoted to High-A ball and the Delmarva Shorebirds. He ended his 2019 season with Delmarva and in a brief 12-game sample size, he hit just .150 though he collected 8 RBI, 6 walks, and a pair of home runs.


Rutschman ended up hitting .254 with 4 homers, 26 RBI, and a .774 OPS in his first sample size of pro ball in 2019. The stellar stats were to come eventually, and the Orioles were unconcerned about what he put up in his first taste of pro ball in 2019. The fans had little worry either, as many dreamed of his big league debut and were already thinking of him as "the man who will take the Orioles to the promised land." Knowing that he was only growing stronger in the coming years, it was only onward and upward from there with their new prodigy.


2021

We skip 2020 because there was no Minor League Baseball. While there was a 60-game MLB season with playoffs, the entire MiLB season was cancelled due to the uprising COVID-19 pandemic. Rutschman ended up at Prince George's Stadium, home of the Bowie Baysox, for the summer. He participated in the Orioles' training camp, which was essentially their Minor League baseball for the pandemic year. He worked alongside fellow prospects Grayson Rodriguez and Gunnar Henderson.


Adley Rutschman's incredible 2021 Minor League campaign began with the Double-A Bowie Baysox. Photo: John Topoleski

MLB went back to a normal schedule in 2021. Rutschman participated in Spring Training with the Orioles as many speculated that he might start the season in Double-A Bowie. That rumor was confirmed when the team announced their Minor League rosters at the end of camp with Rutschman listed as one of Bowie's catchers. This would give him an opportunity to work with Rodriguez, whom had begun pitching to Rutschman with Delmarva in 2019 and was on a trojectory of his own as the nation's top pitching prospect. Many saw both Rutschman and Rodriguez as a dynamic duo on the rise for the Orioles.


Rutschman had a great start with Bowie, batting .293 in the month of May with 6 homers, 20 RBI, and a 1.039 OPS. He walked 22 times which contributed to a ridiculously high .465 OBP. Overall at Double-A Bowie, he hit .271 with a .901 OPS, 55 walks, and 55 RBI. He flexed his power with a .509 SLG and 18 home runs. Some of his biggest home runs included a game-tying 3-run home run in the ninth inning on May 23 and a line drive home run on August 3 at the Somerset Patriots. That home run in Somerset came off MLB veteran and then-Yankees starter Luis Severino, who was in AA ball making a rehab appearance.


Rutschman had performed so well with the Baysox, that the Orioles decided to get him to his final stop in the Minors: Triple-A Norfolk. He was promoted on August 9 and debuted for the Tides the following day on August 10. He went 2-for-4 with an RBI infront of a loud and buzzing Tides crowd. Days later, he hit his first Triple-A home run. Rutschman ended up being a .312 hitter for Norfolk with an .896 OPS, 5 home runs, and 20 RBI in 43 games.


Rutschman had wrapped up his first full season of profesional baseball, and it was a stellar one. He ended up being a .285 hitter overall with a .397 OBP, a .502 SLG, an .899 OPS, 23 home runs, and 73 RBI. MLB Pipeline ranked him the second best prospect in the game behind Wander Franco and the Orioles' No. 1 prospect overall. Birdland knew that he was so close, oh so close, to being Major League ready. He had exceeded all expectations as the number one overall pick, his impact on the prospect pitching was already recognizable, and he was just eating Minor League pitching alive with his bat. It was only a matter of time before he got the call.


2022

Entering the season, MLB Pipeline crowned Rutschman the No. 1 prospect in the game after Franco graduated prospect status with the Tampa Bay Rays. As he neared a call to the big leagues, he stood all alone at the top of his prospect class at the beginning of the 2022 season.


Fans called for Rutschman to be the Opening Day catcher. The Orioles most likely had intentions of starting Rutschman at Norfolk to start the season just to get him some early reps for a confidence boost and perhaps to beat the service time manipulation. However, he ended up landing on the Minor League injured list to start the season due to a strained triceps muscle in his throwing arm. This guaranteed that he would not make the Opening Day roster, and that he would require two to three weeks rest before resuming play.


Rutschman ended up needing a rehab assignment to begin the season, and he spent all of the week of April 26 with the Ironbirds for his season debut. During that week, Rutschman flipped back-and-forth each day between catching and serving as the designated hitter. He caught prospect lefty DL Hall, who was on a rehab assignment of his own, on April 29. In 5 rehab games with Aberdeen, he was a .429 hitter (6-for-14) with an RBI and 2 walks, and he made loud contact all week. He hadn't lost touch with his swing, but the rehab assignment was all about making sure that his arm was 100% ready to go before he returned to the Tides. The Orioles extended his rehab assignment to the following week, and Rutschman was assigned to the Bowie Baysox for three games. He went 5-for-12 (.417) with 2 RBI and 2 walks, and he did the same thing by rotating between catching and DH'ing.


The Tides acivated Rutschman from the IL on May 5, and he returned to action with the boys and battery mate Rodriguez. As speculations in Baltimore rose surrounding a potential MLB debut to be for Rutschman, as fans grew impatient, the catcher kept doing his thing in Norfolk. In 12 games, he hit 3 home runs, collected 7 RBI, drew 7 walks, and posted an .819 OPS.


The Call and Now

Tides manager Buck Britton called Rutschman into his office on the night of May 20. As Rutschman sit there anxiously awaiting what his skipper was going to discuss with him, it slipped out that he was Baltimore bound. A grin shows on Rutschman's face as his Tides teammates storm into the office to mob him and congragulate him.


Adley Rutschman got the call to the show.


As the news quickly spread, fans rejoiced and all the media would talk about that entire day was the arrival of Rutschman, the former first overall pick who was to take the Orioles to great heights He packed his bags and headed northbound to Camden Yards and the Birds, who were 16-24 upon his arrival. With a big crowd on hand for that night's game and with a certain breeze of Orioles Magic in the air, the young catcher took the field for the first time, got his first hit, and made his presence in the game known right away.


The rest to this day is history.


After Rutschman's arrival, the Orioles went 67-55 for the rest of the 2022 season, finishing to an 83-79 record and unexpectidely holding a wild card spot at one point that season. The Orioles have since then put up a 101-61 record with Rutschman, have won the American League East with him, and took forever to be swept in a regular season series after he arrived. Rutschman, himself, has put up great accolades himself. He was a second place AL Rookie of the Year in 2022, got a silver slugger award for catchers in 2023, and made his first All-Star and Home Run Derby appearance that same year. In 2024, he currently leads all AL catchers in All-Star voting and is set to win potentially his first Gold Glove award and another silver slugger award. Along with all of this, he and Rodriguez are now a growing duo at the highest level as predicted.


Adley Rutschman is now a fron-and-center force on a World Series hopeful Orioles team. Photo: John Topoleski

All of this has been nicknamed "the Adley affect," and Adley has certainly affected the Orioles in every positive and winning way possible since he made his debut. How amazing is it that with a single player's presence, a team that once lost over 110 games in a season quickly turned into a 100-win team and perhaps the most feared team in baseball?


Adley Rutschman played a huge role in that, but the fans who loved him and supported him in the Minor Leagues don't ever forget the roots of where it all began for their superstar catcher. Every player begins somewhere and every player starts in the Minors somewhere. Rutschman's natural talent and successful Minor League career helped set the stage for what has been an awesome career to watch thus far, one that is still growing, a young man who is rising closer and closer to being the best catcher in today's game, perhaps ever.

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