ABERDEEN – The light drizzle that fell on Ripken Stadium late Tuesday afternoon cast some doubt about the pending High-A minor league game between the Aberdeen IronBirds and Jersey Shore Blue Claws, but top Orioles prospects Adley Rutschman and DL Hall were too busy expressing excitement about the next big step in their professional baseball careers to notice.
Both have joined the IronBirds to continue injury rehab programs they hope will hasten their much-anticipated arrival with the major league club.
Rutschman, whose spring training was interrupted early because of a right triceps injury, was in the IronBirds’ starting lineup catching and batting second. He went 1-for-2 with a double, a walk and a run scored before coming out of the game after the fifth inning of the IronBirds’ 10-2 victory that included two home runs by Coby Mayo. Rutschman’s only non-productive at-bat was a scorching line out to left field
“Yeah, I was able to get a couple hard-hit balls,” he said. “Got to see some pitches, obviously we got a win and it was great to see the guys cheering for each other and getting that team atmosphere back.”
Rutschman, who played for the IronBirds in 2019, said he enjoyed being back in a competitive situation and loved playing with his young teammates.
“It was great,” he said. “It was one of those things you look forward to since last year ended and we had a lot of good guys in the dugout. It was really cool to be part of that atmosphere again.”
Hall’s pitching schedule has yet to be determined, but he said he’s ready to start stacking some innings. In each case – with their major league debuts within sight — the past couple of months must have seemed like years.
“I think the thing about an injury that’s so tough is just you can’t do anything, especially at the start of the rehab, you’ve really got to be shut down,’’ said Rutschman, the top overall pick in the 2019 June draft. “And then, as you progress in it, as you do more, it makes it a little bit easier but it’s definitely tough seeing guys you know and love being able to go out and play and you’re not being able to. But you’ve just got to stay in that mindset of just control the controllables and what happens happens, and I think you can take solace in that, for sure.”
It’s not clear exactly how long either player will be here, or when Orioles general manager Mike Elias plans to bring any of his maturing prospects to the big league club. By the time Rutschman and Hall are ready to go, the team already will have conserved a year of contractual control, so it’s just a matter of when they are ready for prime time. The important thing right now, of course, is proving they’re 100 percent healthy.
“I’m feeling great,” said Hall, who was the Orioles’ first-round pick in the 2017 draft. “It seems like it’s been forever since I got to toe the rubber in a game, but I’m just excited to put it in the rear view and keep moving forward. I’d say I’m a few weeks from being able to truly let loose, so we’ll see how far it goes in the game.”
Don’t ask either about patience. They’ve had little choice but to wait to get to this point and still have some waiting to do, but they know what’s at stake both personally and for the Orioles’ organization, so they’ll have to settle for imagining what it’s going to be like when they – and several other top players, including premier pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez – move into the major league clubhouse.
“I think it’s hard not to,’’ Rutschman said. “It’s one of those things, where you try not to really get too excited or think about the future too much, because we all try to stay present as much as we can and enjoy the time we have right now, especially since you’re in the minor leagues for two, three, however many years you are, and if you’re just constantly looking at the big leagues, I think you take for granted the time you have right now, especially to make the relationships with the guys on the team.”
On this subject, Hall is very much on the same page.
“It’s definitely a thought that goes through our heads,’’ he said. “It’s very exciting, not just with us but with all the guys coming up. Everyone in this farm system, just a lot of talented guys, so it’s super excited to know that the future of the Orioles is in good hands.”
Clearly, both players think their time is about to come. Hall said he expects to be in the majors soon.
“For sure, that’s my ultimate goal,’’ he said. “That’s what I want to do. I want to be there. It’s been a long road, so I’m ready.”
The business of baseball sometimes gets in the way of a major league dream, but if the waiting is the hardest part, it also brings the maturity to handle it.
“It’s definitely tough, we face it,’’ Hall said. “It’s kind of a thing in baseball that you kind of grow used to just because you see it happen with so many other prospects. They never rush you too much. It’s been a long journey, but I’m looking forward to this year and actually being able to progress.”
The shuttle from the Orioles’ extended spring training camp in Sarasota also brought minor league acquisition Rico Garcia to Aberdeen to continue his comeback from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery.