Adley Rutschman was designated a camp reserve by the Orioles just before spring training started. In his second camp after being the No. 1 pick in 2019, he’s been spending much of his time at the minor league complex at Twin Lakes Park.
On Saturday night, Rutschman won’t be catching but he will be the starting designated hitter for the Orioles when they face the Detroit Tigers at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota. In two games, Rutschman is 1-for-5 (.200) with a double and RBI.
Rutschman, 23, played 37 professional games with Gulf Coast, Aberdeen and Delmarva in 2019. Last season was spent at the Orioles’ alternate site at Bowie after the minor league season was canceled because of the pandemic.
“I think the alternate site helped quite a bit,” Rutschman said in a video conference call. “Just being able to get those three months in of work, facing pitchers live again and being able to catch some of the guys over there helped a lot.
“As far as that goes, I’d like to think that some of the stuff we’re doing as far as pitch-calling, controlling the game and just having those three months of being able to work on my swing, I’d just like to think I’m an overall better player from that.”
Rutschman is expected to start the minor league season in early May at Double-A Bowie. It’s not known whether he’ll make his major league debut later in the season or in 2022.
“Whenever people ask me when do I think I should debut, what’s my timeline, what do I think it should be … For me, it’s always going to be the same,” Rutschman said. “I’m going to control what I can control. I’d like to think I can compete at any level that you put me at, just because of who I am.
“I’d like to think I’m a competitive person and I can do those things. I don’t know what my timeline is. I’m just here to play baseball and get better every day.”
Rutschman like the direction of the Orioles’ organization.
“Everyone here is happy to be here, is happy to be playing again,” he said. “And as far as the personalities we have on the team, I’ve been very fortunate to be a part of this organization so far and be a part of some of the high character, quality people we have right now running the organization, both players and coaches and people running the development process for guys coming up and guys in the big leagues right now.
“I think there’s a good, constant wave trending upward right now from the bottom to the top.”
Rutschman has worked hard to get to know the Orioles’ pitching staff.
“The biggest thing is knowing the pitchers, pitching to their strengths,” Rutschman said. “Then there’s a lot of new analytics coming out about each individual pitcher, then the weaknesses of the guys that we’re facing, so it’s a combination of knowing the opponent, knowing your pitcher and just getting comfortable with that process.”
Among others, Rutschman caught DL Hall and Grayson Rodriguez, the Orioles’ top pitching prospects, last year at the alternate site.
“I think I’m definitely getting a better sense for each of the guys coming up right now,” Rutschman said. “Every single time I catch someone, you learn a little bit more about them, so having the time at the alternate site last year and then having the time to catch guys in bullpens and catch guys in games, everything helps. We’re definitely moving in the right direction.”
Since he was drafted in June 2019, Rutschman has been considered the face of the Orioles.
“I think it’s a very fortunate and very humbling position to be in to have people say that,” Rutschman said. “It has been tough not being able to have that interaction with the fans like a year-and-a-half ago. I look forward to the day that we get interaction again.”
In last Tuesday’s game, manager Brandon Hyde paired Rutschman with knuckleballer Mickey Jannis for an inning. There aren’t any knuckleball pitchers currently in the majors, and it’s a task that even experienced catchers try to avoid.
“It was a little different,” Rutschman said. “I had one bullpen before catching him in a game, and I definitely wasn’t feeling comfortable after that bullpen. It was a little bit of a humbling experience. I didn’t know how the game was going to go. It ended up going good, and he pitched great, so it was a bonus both ways.”