Joseph on Rutschman: "I think they've got a great one"

TORONTO – Caleb Joseph didn’t need a large sample size to get a feel for Orioles catcher Adley Rutschman, to properly ascertain just how good baseball’s No. 1 prospect can be behind the plate and with a bat in his hands.

One series was sufficient for Joseph to receive confirmation Monday night as he sat in the Blue Jays’ radio booth to begin a four-game series. It matched the research done to prepare for his assignment.

The next chapter in Joseph’s professional life isn’t as a scout, but he knows catching, having spent parts of seven seasons doing it at the highest level and 555 games catching in the minors. He knows a legit player when he sees one.

And he understands why success doesn’t arrive at the exact moment that the jersey is buttoned for the first time.

Rutschman caught last night and hit his first major league home run, which also produced his first two RBIs – sending a 94 mph fastball from José Berríos over the center field fence in the fourth inning. He’s 3-for-11 in the series, serving as the designated hitter Tuesday with Trey Mancini injured and Anthony Santander back in Baltimore.

“Be patient,” Joseph said, “be patient with his offense.”

And here’s why. Because the catcher’s plate already is full just from donning the gear.

“A ground ball’s a ground ball, a fly ball’s a fly ball. Pretty much once you get past Double-A they’re pretty similar. One thing you have to really work around is the stadium. But catching is a totally different animal,” Joseph said.

“Having gone through that, it is incredibly stressful in terms of understanding these 13, 14 guys you’re going to be working with, and there’s no type of preparation you can get to really prepare you for what’s going to happen in-season. You can have spring training bullpen sessions and even games in spring training, and it just isn’t the same. They’re not going to show you their best sequences to an Aaron Judge or a (Giancarlo) Stanton, these types of hitters, until the season starts, and so, you can work as much as you want and you can talk as much as you want, but the game is usually going to dictate where those pitchers want to go and how to navigate it, and it just takes experience.

“You can be as highly touted as you want, but it just takes reps.”

Which swings Joseph back to the other half of Rutschman’s responsibilities.

“He’s got so much going on, most probably on the defensive side,” Joseph said. “Everybody wants to run toward offense, but the defensive part of the game is so important, and to have a guy who can actually lead behind the plate is critical at that position, regardless of the bat. The bat will come. He’s got a good swing.

“My early impressions of him is he’s got really nice hands, looks like he really pockets the ball very nicely and consistently. For me, that’s a big deal.”

Rutschman flied to the edge of the center field warning track Monday night, his exit velocity 102 mph, another loud out in the books. He beat out a ground ball into the shift in the seventh inning with the Orioles down 10-0 and scored on Kyle Stowers’ first major league hit.

Last night’s home run ball traveled 411 feet with an exit velocity of 103.2 mph.

In what seems like a nightly occurrence when he’s in the field, Rutschman also stayed in front of a pitch in the dirt to hold a runner rather than chasing the ball to the backstop. The mitt turned in a split second, his body shifting to this right.

“I love his setup,” Joseph said. “I love the fact that he can block balls. He looks incredibly athletic. The way he’s blocking the ball is excellent. I’ve watched a bunch of video in the past three or four days, kind of getting accustomed to the Oriole lineup, and watching him behind the plate. His movements are really good, he looks really smooth. He does not look like a rookie in that sense.

“Great hands, and I like the fact that he’s actually up on two feet. I personally like that. I think blocking balls is an underrated skill right now and it’s just a free 90 feet when you can’t block it. Every single ball I have seen in the dirt the last six or seven games, going back to video, he has executed perfectly. I think he’s going to be a really good one. I think they’ve got a great one.”

Expectations were set unreasonably high based on Rutschman’s reputation, the first overall pick in the 2019 draft, his talent and makeup setting him up to disappoint if he had a slow start to his major league career.

A strained right triceps muscle in spring camp delayed his arrival. Made the Orioles handle him with extreme caution, which continues today with periods of rest that may shorten as the summer moves along.

The weather is heating up. The bat will do the same. In the meantime, the Orioles will take everything he’s offering on defense without complaint.

“Be patient with the hitting,” Joseph said. “It’s a lot to consume, especially in your first week, two weeks, three weeks, a month in the big leagues. It takes a minute to get accustomed to all the routines, the information, sifting through all of that. And he’s got Robinson Chirinos, who has been around and can really help him sift through what’s good, where to go in certain situations in terms of pitch-calling. It’s just a different animal.

“Imagine being in Triple-A and you’ve got maybe one or two guys in the lineup that you don’t want to beat you. Well, you come to the big leagues, it’s all nine, and so it’s high stress on the actual signals, it’s high stress on how every pitch could really swing the game, and there’s no breaks in these major league lineups, whereas, you can kind of mindlessly call a game in Triple-A very easily. You only have to worry about one or two guys who are really going to damage you. It’s not the case in the big leagues, so it takes a mental toll on you, and that, in turn, can do some physical stuff, too.

“He looks really good on defense, and the offense, his swing looks good. And goodness, he hits from both sides of the plate. What is it with the Orioles and switch-hitting catchers, right?”

Joseph wanted to be the right-handed hitter who backed up Rutschman, and he had multiple exchanges with executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias during the lockout period, but a deal didn’t materialize. The Orioles signed Chirinos and Anthony Bemboom, and later Beau Taylor.

“Yeah, I think we both flirted around with the idea of a reunion, and I would have loved for it to work out. It didn’t, and that’s OK. Everybody doesn’t get what they want all the time,” said Joseph, a seventh-round pick in 2008 who waited seven years to make his major league debut at age 27 on the division-winning team that featured Matt Wieters, the fifth-overall selection in 2007.

“I do think a return to Birdland is, hopefully, inevitable. It just still feels like home. Twelve, 13 years there and so many good people. The beat writers, all the fans. Over the years I’ve really realized how much support and love I had there, even being a very low-profile player on some really good teams. The fans have just been amazing, and even returning two years ago (with Seattle) got me pretty misty just thinking about the many, many memories I made there. Professionally, personally.

“I was telling somebody a couple days ago, we had gender reveals at Fort McHenry for both of my kids. Stuff like that. Regardless of what’s happening right now, that will forever be a part of us. Raising our kids for parts of their lives there, and the memories, and the Snapchat recounts of, five years ago today we were at the Inner Harbor, three years ago today we were eating at Spoons café downtown. These types of things that bring back such amazing memories. My wife and I, we kind of started off our marriage there and started our family there. Such amazing memories with such good people.”

Joseph was made for broadcasting with his insight, honestly and sense of humor, and he’s found a fresh audience with his impressions and air drums. He’s doing radio for this series and the pre- and post-game shows on television when the Yankees come to town.

The laughs come from Joseph when he's asked whether he’s officially done playing, his last major league appearances spanning three games with the Blue Jays in 2020.

He loves the new gig and yearns for the old.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “It’s all but over, but my heart is still to play. I know I, probably at some point, need to get over that, but I wasn’t ridden hard and put up wet. You just never know. Crazier things have happened.

“Shoot, my brother (Corban) went five years in between major league appearances. Was he 35? No. But I want to still play, but I’m just not sure there’s room for me in the game. So, if this is the next step, then it’s a pretty good second step.”

Note and quotes after a walk-off loss at Toronto
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