ABERDEEN—It was Adley Rutschman’s scheduled night off, and the Baltimore Orioles’ top draft pick spent Thursday in the bullpen. It wasn’t a time to goof off for the overall top pick in June’s draft.
Rutschman spent the game learning. The Orioles have a definitive plan for him and that includes planned rest days. On Rutschman’s day of rest, he did shoulder exercises, swung a bat and chatted with the relievers.
“I get to talk to them, get to learn more about them,” Rutschman said. “From that standpoint, it’s good, to be able to converse with, develop a relationship with them, get to know each guy. That always helps when you’re out there working together. Usually, that stuff translates on the field.”
Aberdeen IronBirds manager Kevin Bradshaw knows that fans come to Ripken Stadium and other New York-Penn League ballparks to see Rutschman.
“It would be nice to tell the people, ‘Hey, he’s not playing tonight,’” Bradshaw said. “Because some people are coming here tonight expecting him to be in the lineup, and he’s not going to be in the lineup, and they might be disappointed, but that’s part of the game.”
Everyone wants to see Rutschman, who ‘s hitting .184 (7-for-38) with an RBI in 10 games for Aberdeen. So far, he’s caught five games and been the designated hitter five times. At Gulf Coast, where he played his first five professional games, Rutschman hit .143.
The realization came quickly for him that he’s no longer at Oregon State, and that baseball is his full-time profession.
“It’s definitely hit,” Rutschman said. “I love it. It’s awesome to be able to do it. Usually, I go home at night, and I can’t wait for my next at-bat. It’s fun because it’s a process, and it’s something I’m learning right now and how to get used to it and how to get used the whole atmosphere and everything that comes along with being a professional baseball player.
“That’s the fun part for me is getting to learn and just understand that every day I get to come out here and learn how to become a better player, work on the process and be the best I can be.”
Rutschman didn’t sign until three weeks after the draft. A case of mononucleosis delayed his professional debut until July 20 and his first game in Maryland wasn’t until a week later.
“It’s becoming more like home every day,” Rutschman said. “Anywhere you go, there’s about a two-week adjustment period as far as the weather goes. In Florida, there was definitely an adjustment period, so coming up here from Florida was pretty easy as far as the temperature and humidity. It was nice to come here from Florida as opposed to vice versa.”
So far, Ruthschman has had two road trips, to Mahoning Valley, outside of Cleveland, a bus ride of about 5 ½ hours, and to Norwich, Connecticut, one that’s about an hour shorter. On Wednesday night, the IronBirds played the Connecticut Tigers and Rutschman put to use what’s he’s learned about these difficult trips.
“It’s overnight, you play a game, you bus and you play the next day,” Rutschman said. “It’s getting your body and finding what works for you. Be sure you invest in a blanket and a nice pillow and try to find a way to get comfortable.
“You can always learn how to do things better, so right now, I’m learning how to sleep better on a bus and get a couple of hours [sleep] in before, so my body can feel better the next day. Also, the nutrition that I can add on, a cooler on the bus with a couple of snacks to keep hydrated.”
He’s doing well adjusting to the everyday life of a minor leaguer, and getting high marks from Bradshaw, a 55-year-old who’s had 16 years of managing professionally.
“I think he’s adjusting just fine,” Bradshaw said. “He had so much time off, and the whirlwind of everything he had to go through as a number one pick.
“I think baseball people knew it was going to take some time to get his timing back. It’s still taking time. You can see he’s hitting some balls harder, and he’s getting that timing back … We know what kind of talent he has. I think everything else will take care of itself.”
For three seasons, Rutschman played in the Pac-12 conference with three current teammates from Stanford: outfielder Kyle Stowers, catcher Maverick Handley and first baseman Andrew Daschbach.
“He’s a very humble guy, very level-headed, and he doesn’t let his head blow up or anything like that with all the attention that he gets,” said Daschbach, who was the Orioles’ 11th-round draft pick.
“He does a great job signing autographs for kids. I always say I feel bad for him. Everywhere he goes, he’s the center of attention, and that’s not who he is. He just wants to show up to the ballpark, play and compete, but he does a great job in dealing with the off-field stuff, taking time for young kids who look up to him, even older fans who want to see him as the face of the organization.”
Bradshaw saw it on the most recent IronBirds road trip to Norwich.
“There’s a line of autograph seekers out there,” Bradshaw said. “The other guys see it. As for how he’s settling in with this group, I think he’s just another player, and I think the other players on the team are seeing that. I think he’s starting to jell with some of the guys.”
One of those is Daschbach, who occasionally drives Rutschman to the ballpark.
“More than anything, he’s a normal guy,” Daschbach said. “He’s a big movie quotes guy. You start to lose sight of the fact that he’s a once-a-generation-type player. He just seems like a normal guy.”
The normal guy got a record signing bonus, $8.1 million, and he’s doing his best to earn it.
“The talent here is elite,” Rutschman said. “The consistency of good players that you see here is better [than in college]. You don’t find anyone coming out of the ‘pen that’s subpar. You might in college baseball. Here, it’s consistently good pitching and guys know what they’re doing.
“…It’s a little bit faster paced play, but I think the Pac-12 was a good league. It really did a good job of preparing you … A lot of the development as far as coming here and playing as many games as you are is developing that maturity, and I think that’s one thing that college really did for me.”
At 21, Rutschman is mature and serious about his craft, and he’s doing well at ignoring the hype that goes with being the top pick.
“You’ve got to focus on what is important,” Rutschman said. “For me, that’s trying to improve. I’m looking at a long-term goal, and I’m trying to take steps every single day to achieve that goal … I’m not so much looking at every single day, what the result brings. I’m trying to continually get better. If I keep that focus, all the stuff about the hype doesn’t really matter.”
Bradshaw sees progress.
“I love the way he swings the bat,” Bradshaw said. “I have a buddy that’s the catching instructor for the Tigers and he said there was a different sound when the ball came off the bat, and you hear that.
“You see him catch, he’s catching fine. He threw out two of the fastest runners in our league one of the first days he caught. Right now, he’s doing everything well. His average doesn’t show it, but I think he’s going to be a heck of a hitter. I think he’s going to hit for power. He’s going to hit for average.”
Daschbach has no doubts about Rutschman’s ability.
“They already treat him like a megadeal in Aberdeen, which is great,” he said. “You can see his talent on the field. It’s very clear that he will be in the big leagues. Hopefully, if he stays there, he’ll play for a long time. It’s a lot of fun playing with a once-in-a-generation-type talent.”
Rutschman doesn’t know when he’ll play for the Orioles but is focused on that goal.
“That’s what you have to think,” Rutschman said. “I think everyone has to think they can play at that level because if you don’t, then what are you doing? What are you doing playing pro ball? That’s where I want to be, and I’ve got believe I can play there.”