SARASOTA, Florida—The biggest new name in Orioles’ spring training is the player who has the least professional experience.
Catcher Adley Rutschman, the overall No. 1 draft pick who received a record $8.1 million signing bonus last June, has played in only 37 professional games, and general manager Mike Elias has said he won’t play with the Orioles this season.
Rutschman is in camp to learn from players who have more experience than he does and coaches who have decades of time in professional ball.
He’s also here to show the fans in Baltimore that the rebuild is underway and that if they come to early Grapefruit League games at Ed Smith Stadium, they could be rewarded by watching the switch-hitting catcher play a few innings.
“It’s been awesome so far,” Rutschman said. “A lot of baseball, a lot of instruction and just getting accustomed to everything.”
Rutschman, who turned 22 earlier this month, is dressing with the Orioles’ other six catchers. In one of his early batting practice sessions on a back field, Elias came on the field when it was done to check on him.
A year ago, the Orioles were contemplating whether to take Rutschman or Texas high school shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. with the first pick. Rutschman was attending classes at Oregon State.
“It’s a completely different thing,” Rutschman said of the college versus professional comparison.
“We haven’t gotten into our season, obviously, yet. So far, the days have just been a little longer, start a little earlier than in college, but it’s a format that a lot of the guys who come back, like Trevor Larnach and Nick Madrigal, they talked about kind of how spring training was going to work. I felt I was more prepared coming in.”
Professional ball is a new experience for Rutschman, who could return to Low-A Delmarva to begin the season or move up to High-A Frederick.
“I feel like everyone in baseball has a little different way of saying stuff, going about teaching, which is not a bad thing at all,” Rutschman said.
“It’s great to have new instruction and new ideas. As baseball has evolved over the past couple of years, there’s a lot of new material that keeps coming out.”
Last season, Rutschman, whose professional debut was delayed by mononucleosis, played five games for Rookie Level Gulf Coast, 20 for Short-Season Aberdeen and 12 games for the Shorebirds. He hit a combined .254 with four home runs and 26 RBIs, and threw out seven of the 11 runners who attempted to steal again him.
“That’s just the sport of baseball, constantly evolving,” Rutschman said. “As a player, I feel like you’re never going to be satisfied where you’re at. Hitting is one of the toughest things to do. You’re never going to reach an arrival point per se, so I think there’s always things to improve upon. If you ask Mike Trout, I’m sure he’d say he’s still working on stuff.”
Rutschman is catching pitchers with major league experience at camp.
“It’s a great learning experience for me,” Rutschman said. “I ask each one of them what they want from me. I get to try to accommodate them as best as I can. By being able to catch more experienced guys, I feel like it’s a great learning experience for me, too.”
Instead of 8 a.m. classes, Rutschman and the other catchers are getting early work with catching coordinator Tim Cossins, beginning at 7 each day.
“This is awesome,” Rutschman said. “We’re still in the first couple of weeks. Shoot, if it’s a grind right now, man, I’d feel bad for you. It’s going well so far, and I’m excited to come to the field every day.”
In another year, one without the Houston Astros’ electronic sign-stealing scandal, Rutschman probably would be surrounded by the national media. But these days, the Orioles are doing their work quietly and with little attention. Rutschman is able to focus on getting better.
“I think just having that mindset, I’m always trying to set goals and achieve goals,” Rutschman said. “If you have a growth mindset and you take a look around and count your blessings basically, it keeps you in a good perspective and a good state of mind. I’m extremely fortunate to be where I’m at, and I try and remember that every day.”
In the NFL, a team’s top draft choice is expected to pick up massive dinner checks for his veteran teammates. That hasn’t been the case for Rutschman.
“No, not yet. I’m still waiting,” he said.
Rutschman is expected to be in camp for a few weeks. Minor league pitchers and catchers report to Twin Lakes Park on March 4, but between now and then, there are games to play, beginning Saturday at North Port against the Atlanta Braves.
“Absolutely, absolutely. I’m excited. It’s going to be a good experience,” Rutschman said.
Orioles switch infielders: The Orioles claimed infielder Andrew Velazquez on waivers from the Cleveland Indians. Velazquez is a .152 hitter in 28 games over the past two years with Cleveland and Tampa Bay. Last season, he hit (.087) 2-for-23 with the Indians and Rays.
To make room on the 40-man roster for Velazquez, the Orioles designated infielder Richard Urena for assignment.
Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB
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