Before catcher Adley Rutschman found out he’d be reporting to major league camp on Sunday, his mind wasn’t on the baseball negotiations that finally got resolved on Thursday.
“It’s been easy to stay with it, stay with the work and be around the guys,” Rutschman said. “It’s been fun so far.”
One of the big questions now that spring training is here is whether Rutschman will be with the Orioles on Opening Day — currently set for April 8th at Tropicana Field against the Tampa Bay Rays—or whether he’ll return to Triple-A Norfolk for a few weeks.
“I expect myself to show up every day with a great attitude and a great effort,” Rutschman said about handling the decision. “From there, continue to try to get better and be the best player I can be.”
Rutschman, baseball’s No. 1 prospect, has gotten to catch right-hander Grayson Rodriguez, the minor league’s top pitching prospect.
“The stuff first is elite,” Rutschman said. “From a mental standpoint, he’s just one of those guys that continues to work on his craft. He gets better every day.
“You see the work ethic, and then you see the stuff. When you combine the two, he’s just a really great player and also a great person.”
Rodriguez’s goal: Rodriguez is likely begin the season at Triple-A Norfolk. It’s expected that if he performs well with the Tides, he’ll join Rutschman with the Orioles later in 2022.
“It’s something that’s within reach,” Rodriguez said. “Ultimately, it’s not my decision. It’s up to the organization. For me, I’m going to put my head down wherever I go, report, go out and make a start every fifth or sixth day and get my work in.”
Rodriguez’s pitch count and innings were closely monitored in 2021. Perhaps he’ll get to pitch deeper into games this season.
“If it was up to me, I’d love to pitch in the ninth inning every game,” Rodriguez said. “Ultimately, that’s not our goal in the minor leagues. That’s up to the organization. They had already formulated the plan, five innings, sometimes six, depending on the pitch count.
“Going into the season last year, it wasn’t something that was up to me. If it was up to me, I’d want to go out for the seventh. We’ll see what’s in store for me this year, but ultimately, it’s not my decision.”
Kjerstad’s ready: Heston Kjerstad missed last season, which was supposed to be his first in professional ball, because of myocarditis, an infection of the heart muscle.
Kjerstad, who was the second overall draft pick in 2020, has been working out at the Orioles’ minicamp and at the early minor league camp.
“I’ve definitely learned a lot mentally just going through what I had to,” Kjerstad said. “The thing that I took away was patience and controlling what you can control. In life, there’s some things you can control and some things you can’t.
“In baseball, I can control my preparation, and I can control how hard I work, but after I hit the ball, I can’t control who fields it or where it goes.”
The 23-year-old left-handed hitting outfielder said that hitting was the quickest skill to return.
“Hitting’s been pretty natural to me, and I keep it very simple,” Kjerstad. “The thing that I have to be more patient with and give more time is my strength and weight room stuff … It took a little bit more time to get where I wanted to be. I’m in a good spot, if not stronger than I was before.”
Stowers’ jump: Outfielder Kyle Stowers progressed rapidly in his first full season in professional baseball. Stowers, who was the third selection of the Orioles in the 2019 draft, began last season at High-A Aberdeen, moved up to Double-A Bowie and on to Norfolk.
He had a combined .273 average, 27 home runs and 85 RBIs with an .898 OPS.
“Early in the year when I first got to Double-A, seven or eight weeks in, kind of learning how not to feel bad for myself during tough stretches,” Stowers said.”Keep my nose down and keep going. That was really key for me, being able to bounce back from an 0-for-4 and show up at the field the next day.”
Stowers has gotten to play with Kjerstad, and is impressed.
“He’s a great guy. I’ve really enjoyed being around him, and having a good time, getting work in with him,” Stowers said. “You know about the bat and the exit velocity he’s able to generate, his bat-to-ball skills. I didn’t realize how fast he was. The guy can run really well. Doing running times, he’s been impressive with how well he can run.”
Westburg’s advance: Stowers wasn’t the only top-shelf Oriole prospect to play at three levels in 2021. Infielder Jordan Westburg, the Orioles’ second-round pick in 2020, started at Low-A Delmarva, moved up to Aberdeen and then to Bowie.
Westburg combined for a .285 average with 17 home runs and 79 RBIs. He had an .868 OPS with 17 stolen bases in 22 attempts. Gunnar Henderson, the Orioles second-round pick in 2019, also played at the same three affiliates. Both played shortstop and third base.
“I found it helpful,” Westburg said of alternating. “You pick up things at third that you might use at short and vice-versa. It’s always helpful to be as versatile as possible. Obviously, you want to get to the big leagues as quickly as possible. The value on guys that can play multiple positions is very high in today’s game. I didn’t think it was very difficult.
“It’s difficult switching positions that you might not be used to, but I’ve put in so much work there that I feel pretty comfortable.”