Orioles can jumpstart rebuild by drafting Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Rich Dubroff

Orioles can jumpstart rebuild by drafting Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman

Photo credit: Steven Branscombe - USA Today Sports

I’ve never seen Adley Rutschman play, but I think the Orioles should make him the No. 1 choice in next month’s draft. By virtue of their 115 losses in 2018, they can pick the best amateur player, and that’s Rutschman.

If you don’t know about him, you’ll be learning a lot in the weeks before the June 3rd draft.

As the losses piled up last season, speculation began that the Orioles would choose Texas high school shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. But since general manager Mike Elias, a master scout, took over, talk about Rutschman has become more prominent.

Rutschman is a 6-feet-2, 216-pound catcher from Oregon State. As a junior, he has video-game numbers. In his first 46 games, Rutschman is hitting .431 with a .581 on-base percentage, and a .791 slugging average for an OPS of 1.372.

In the counting stats, Rutschman has 15 home runs and 52 RBIs. He’s walked nearly twice as often as he’s struck out (60 walks, 31 strikeouts).

A scout for another major league team who has watched Rutschman play says he’s an easy choice as the No. 1 pick.

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“He has monster numbers, and he can defend, and he switch-hits,” the scout said. “His resume is ridiculous. He’s not quite in the stratosphere of Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg-like, no doubt No. 1 pick, but he’s not far off in terms of resume, track record, history, accomplishments, talent. He checks an awful lot of boxes.”

Although Elias could still look at Witt or perhaps Cal first baseman Andrew Vaughn, the Orioles could a solidify a key position for years if they choose Rutschman.

The scout says that Rutschman compares favorably with two other outstanding college catchers, Jason Varitek, the longtime Boston Red Sox catcher, and former Oriole Matt Wieters.

Wieters was a heavily hyped prospect when the Orioles drafted him with the fifth overall selection in 2007.

Less than two years after the draft, Wieters was in the major leagues and a key contributor in helping to end 14 seasons of losing baseball in 2012.

A vastly underappreciated player, Wieters was compared with Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer and the New York Yankees’ Jorge Posada.

While he never turned out to be “Mauer with power,” Wieters gave the Orioles credibility and helped nurture a starting staff that featured Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chin, Miguel Gonzalez, Joe Saunders and a developing Chris Tillman to a playoff berth in 2012.

Rutschman could gve the Orioles that same credibility as they build with young pitchers such as D.L. Hall, Blaine Knight, Grayson Rodriguez and others who Elias might select in this draft.

Catchers aren’t usually the marquee player on a team. Wieters was surrounded by J.J. Hardy, Adam Jones, Manny Machado and Nick Markakis, but did the thinking for a developing and sometimes unstable pitching staff.

More important, catchers who are skilled offensively and defensively are incredibly rare. The argument could be made that the Orioles shouldn’t pick a player who might play “only” 120 games per season, but Wieters proved otherwise

In Wieters’ prime seasons, 2011 and 2012, he had a combined WAR (Wins over Replacement) of 9.3, higher than Jones’ 7.4. He also won the Gold Glove in both of those seasons.

Tommy John surgery limited him to 101 games in 2014 and 2015, but he was still a solid player in the 2016 playoff run.

If the Orioles could get a catcher who’s better, perhaps far better than Wieters with their first pick, they should take him.

Baseball fans who closely follow the NFL and NBA drafts know much more about the top picks than they do about top amateur baseball players.

“Baseball’s place in the culture is not as big as it used to be,” the scout said. “Otherwise, I think we’d be making a much bigger deal out of Adley Rutschman.”

Avid football fans who watch 12 hours of college football each Saturday can claim to be intimately familiar with Kyler Murray, the top pick of the Arizona Cardinals in last month’s draft, who shunned the Oakland Athletics for the NFL.

Murray, an exciting quarterback prospect, was a sexy pick, and he’ll likely play immediately. As good as Rutschman is, he still may need a year or two in the minors.

Rutschman could be the centerpiece of Elias’ rebuild, and if the Orioles select him next month, the team’s new era will truly be under way.

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