Gunnar and Adley. Adley and Gunnar. Two of the Orioles top young talents, both Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson were taken in the 2019 MLB Draft. In fact, they were the first two selections made by the then new regime of executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias.
Rutschman was taken with the No. 1 overall selection out of Oregon State University and Henderson was taken No. 42 overall out of John T. Morgan Academy in Selma, Alabama. Rutschman was the more experienced and polished player as a college draft pick and it took Gunnar a bit longer to gain that polish.
But both have already been ranked as the No. 1 prospect in baseball by Baseball America and the two are among the biggest reasons the Orioles have the No. 1 ranked farm in the sport right now and a big league team that is off to a great start.
And as written here yesterday, the Orioles have gotten off to a strong offensive start this year scoring 5.28 runs per game. A big reason for that is improved plate discipline stats which have the Orioles among the top teams in baseball in walks, pitches per plate appearance and OBP.
Rutschman entered Friday’s games batting .287/.405/.436/.841 in 25 games. He ranked first in the American League with 20 walks heading into Friday’s play. He ranked tied for fifth in the AL in OBP and 21st in the league in pitches per plate appearance.
Gunnar may have had further to come with his plate discipline skills as a high school kid selected by the Orioles, but Rutschman told me recently both have improved significantly on the O’s watch. And he said this is a direct result of a pregame focus to get better at knowing the strike zone.
“I think we both improved quite a bit since we’ve been here,” said Rutschman. “I think it is just having intent when you are in the cage during BP. Or hitting off a machine, whatever it is. You have to be intent on hitting only good pitches, not just swinging at everything. That is definitely an emphasis.”
And a constant emphasis.
“Just with everything we do. Whether it’s mixed pitch BP (where coaches throw more than just hittable fastballs), or hitting off machines, I focus on hitting balls in the zone. And doing damage on those balls in the zone. I am focused on that specific thing," he said.
Rutschman has been consistent as a patient hitter. He saw on average, 4.27 pitches per plate appearance last year and this is his exact average now. But so far in 2023, his strong walk rate of last year, which was 13.8 percent then is now up to 17.2 percent. That is way above the 8.3 league average.
He said he has gotten better because he can and is very focused on it.
“Of course, there is room to still get better. In baseball and on anything in life,” he said.
Rutschman leads MLB in taking the first pitch. He swings at the first one just 6.1 percent of the time, fewer than any hitter in either league that qualifies for league leaders. Is that by design? He won’t really let on.
“I think it comes and goes with time,” was all he would say about taking the first one.
But the improved plate discipline team-wide for the Orioles – an OBP that went from .305 last year to .335 now and a club walk rate that increased from 7.9 to 10.5 – will be big for this offense all year.
“I mean it is just one of those aspects, where we give ourselves the best chance possible when we swing at pitches in the zone. It is one of those things that if we can continue to do it as a team, it will make us better. Those things continue to add up through the year,” said Rutschman.
Let's play two: The Orioles (17-8), winners of nine of their past 10 games, were rained out Friday night at Detroit. They will play a split doubleheader today with games at 12:10 and 5:10 p.m.
In Game 1: O's Dean Kremer (2-0, 6.20 ERA) vs. Eduardo Rodriguez (1-2, 2.32 ERA).
In Game 2: O's Grayson Rodriguez (0-0, 5.12 ERA) vs. Matthew Boyd (1-1, 4.26 ERA).
The Orioles are 8-4 in road games and 4-0 against Detroit.