BOWIE, Maryland—Buck Britton pointed to an expression on his T-shirt. “Pressure is a privilege,” it read. Britton, who’s in his second season as manager of the Bowie Baysox, has a number of prospects on his roster.
“The prospect list is basically here,” he said before Grayson Rodriguez’s first home start on Tuesday night.
Along with Rodriguez, Baseball America’s top-ranked pitching prospect, the Baysox have catcher Adley Rutschman, the overall No. 1 draft choice in 2019, and the Orioles’ top prospect, according to MLB Pipeline.
Rodriguez is second and, after outfielder Heston Kjerstad, who’s ranked third but has yet to play because of myocarditis, a inflammation of the heart muscle, is left-handed pitcher DL Hall, who this week was placed on the injured list because of tendinitis in his left elbow.
With Rutschman (2019), Rodriguez (2018), Hall (2017) and right-hander Cody Sedlock (2016), Bowie has four top draft choices on its roster.
The Baysox also have right-hander Mike Baumann and infielder Terrin Vavra, who was acquired from Colorado in the August 2020 trade that sent reliever Mychal Givens to the Rockies. Vavra is also on the injured list because of a strained lower back.
Two other Top 30 products, right-hander Kyle Bradish (15) and left-hander Kevin Smith (19), started the season with Bowie and did so well that they’ve moved up to Triple-A Norfolk.
Outfielder Yusniel Diaz, who’s the 10th-ranked prospect, is rehabbing a leg injury with Bowie.
On Tuesday, Bowie drew nearly 5,000 for Rodriguez’s first start. There was a big-time atmosphere with a true minor league promotion. Fans were encouraged to bring empty gas cans to symbolize the gas that Rodriguez brings with his fastball.
“They know the eyes are on them,” Britton said. “What better place to be when you’re in the minor leagues and everybody paying attention to what’s going on? These guys are excited every day.
“Guys compete with each other on a daily basis. It’s an internal competition. They’re trying to one-up each other, and that’s what we’re seeing daily.”
Britton jokes about the difficulty of his job.
“I kind of just write their name on the lineup card, roll the balls out and let them go,” he said.
Bowie’s pitching coach is Justin Ramsey, who worked with Rodriguez at Low-A Delmarva in 2019, his first season in professional ball after years in college coaching. He’s working under the direction of Chris Holt, who oversees pitching for the organization.
“I don’t feel like it’s pressure because there’s a good system in place that Holty’s put together,” Ramsey said. “I feel comfortable staying in that system. Getting to know the guys and what they’re trying to do and how they work, it’s easy to put them in different positions or whatever we’re talking about for the delivery adjustments.
“We’re confident in what we do with the guys. We believe in what we do, and we’re seeing the results.”
This minor league season is different. The season began a month late, in the first week of May, and will run until mid-September. Teams play six-game series and Mondays are off.
That schedule has enabled Rutschman to get a regular rest day, and he’s also played 10 games at first base besides catching.
“Adley’s outstanding back there,” Britton said. “He has just as much influence on the development of these pitchers as they do on him. These are guys he’s going to catch in Baltimore, hopefully for a long time. There’s a leadership factor in Adley. He’s a very inviting guy for these pitchers to go to and talk to.”
There’s excitement each time Rutschman comes to the plate. He’s excited about catching the top prospects.
“It’s awesome. It makes my job easy,” Rutschman said. “You can sit back, relax and watch them do their thing and see how they work. It’s been awesome all year.
“They’re all different pitchers, so I get a lot of different pitches, a lot of different angles, sequencing … so for me, it covers all angles, and I’m able to work and get better every single day.”
Oriole fans hope to see Rutschman this season, and he keeps up with the club.
“We’re pretty busy for the most part, but we throw on the games in the locker room when they’re playing, so we’re able to see as much as we can,” he said.
On Friday, catcher Chance Sisco was designated for assignment. The move would seem to open up a position at Norfolk, perhaps leading to a faster track to the majors for the 23-year-old.
“As far as my timeline goes, I don’t really know. I’m just trying to better every single day,” Rutschman said.
Rutschman has caught Baumann, Bradish, Hall, Rodriguez and Smith this season, and perhaps they’ll be together in 2022 at Camden Yards.
“There are definitely times when you have to take a step back and have that kind of perspective and realize this is a cool thing we have going on right now and try to enjoy every single second of it,” Rutschman said.
“There’s a lot of excitement going on in the minor leagues,” Britton said. “This is where the future is. Oriole fans understand that, and they’re hopeful of it, so it’s exciting when … really good players start trickling up the system and getting close to Baltimore.
“Losing is never easy, but when you have some talent coming up, it makes things a little easier. Baltimore is a great sports town, and they want a winner, and they’re excited for these guys that are down here performing. I’m looking forward to things changing.”