SALISBURY—The Orioles’ signing of overall first draft choice Adley Rutschman comes, coincidentally or not, at a most interesting time.
Rutschman, the switch-hitting catcher from Oregon State whose signing was announced on Monday, was greeted enthusiastically by hero-starved Orioles fans when drafted on June 3.
Not only has Rutschman signed, but according to MLB.com’s Jim Callis, the team is close to signing Alabama high school shortstop Gunnar Henderson, their second-round choice.
If Rutschman and Henderson sign, that will mean 10 of the 11 top Orioles picks have signed ahead of the July 12 deadline. Only LSU outfielder Zach Watson, chosen in the third round, hasn’t signed. Last Friday, the team signed Stanford centerfielder Kyle Stowers, chosen in the competitive balance round.
This infusion of talent would come concurrently with Manny Machado’s return to Baltimore. Machado, who was the third overall pick in 2010, is in town for two games with the San Diego Padres on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Signings of Rutschman and Henderson are excellent news for fans who’ve suffered a talent drain that began when Machado was traded just after last July’s All-Star Game to the Los Angeles Dodgers for five players.
One of those players, infielder Breyvic Valera, is with the New York Yankees’ Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Rail Riders. Another, reliever Zach Pop, is on the minor league 60-day injured list after Tommy John surgery.
Infielder Rylan Bannon was named to the Eastern League All-Star team on Monday. Outfielder Yusniel Diaz was last week’s EL Player of the Week and celebrated the birth of a child. Pitcher Dean Kremer is having a disappointing season with the Baysox, having missed significant time because of an oblique injury.
Machado, as wonderful a player as he was for the Orioles, represents the past. Now, Rutschman, Henderson and Stowers are the first avatars of general manager Mike Elias’ Orioles makeover.
Last year, shortstop Cadyn Grenier was taken with the 37th overall pick by the Orioles. Grenier was a teammate of Rutschman at Oregon State, which last year won the College World Series.
Grenier is in his second season with the Low-A Delmarva Shorebirds of the South Atlantic League. The previous Orioles regime decided to send him directly from college to Delmarva.
Elias hasn’t said where Rutschman would start.
“It’s cool that he could have a chance to come play with us and try to help us win a championship here,” Grenier said.
“… Adley would mix right in with us, with no problem. He’d fit in perfectly. It would be a lot of fun tor me to be with him again. It would probably be easier for him because I’ve been in pro ball for almost a full year. Helping him get going in pro ball would be huge.”
If Rutschman comes to the Shorebirds instead of starting at Short-Season Aberdeen, he would catch promising pitchers Grayson Rodriguez and Drew Rom, who are two years younger and were drafted from high school.
“Having someone like Adley behind the plate gives every pitcher a lot more confidence,” Grenier said. “The way he carries himself. He kind of hypes up the pitchers when they get out of huge jams. It helps them build their confidence, keep their confidence up, even if they have a rough inning.
“Even for guys like Drew and Grayson, who have had great years and are awesome pitchers, having him back there could boost him a little more. It’s going to help the back-end guys in the bullpen who are maybe struggling or don’t throw a ton. Having him back there gives them a lot more confidence that they can throw all their stuff.”
Grenier says that Rutschman is a “laid-back, calm guy. He’s got a great personality, very sociable, very kind, very genuine … somebody that’s just a joy to talk to.”
Shorebirds manager Kyle Moore said that he’s thought about having Rutschman start his professional career with Delmarva.
“I try not to. I think, ‘I don’t want to go there. I don’t want to get my hopes up,’” Moore said. “But then, I asked Cadyn about him: ‘What do you have on this kid that we drafted?’ He said, ‘He’s the best player I ever played with,’ and as soon as he said it, I said, ‘Man, I hope we get him.’
“I wouldn’t mind managing him in the second half and seeing what he does,” Moore said. “All of our pitchers are prospects … I thought, ‘Why wouldn’t they want to send him here?’
“… It’s not like it’s at the front of my radar, but if he walked in the clubhouse, I’d be really happy.”