Patience and expectations: Words to keep in mind when young players reach MLB

When it comes to the Orioles, we have seen it happen in recent years, we have seen it happen last year and we have a historical perspective of it as well.

It is that a young player, even those ranked as No. 1 prospects in the sport, can and often do struggle at the outset of their major league careers.

Two words come to mind - patience and expectations. Patience to give the young player time to settle in and feel comfortable at the big league level and to start to put up numbers. And expectations which must be managed early on for that player. It’s OK to have high expectations, we should for top prospects, but it is also ok to give them time to realize the expectations. Often a lot of time.

Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson are now emerging stars on the Orioles and already considered among the top players in the game. They have at least a couple of things in common in that both shot up to No. 1 in prospect rankings and both had some early career struggles.

Hard to believe it now, but Rutschman, who had his MLB debut on May 21, 2022, was 13-for-74 after his first 20 games with 18 strikeouts and no RBIs. That is zero RBIs. He was batting .176/.256/.257/.513 at that point. Over 113 games on the 2022 season he would hit .254/.362/.445/.806 and finished second for the Rookie of the Year award and 12th in the MVP voting.

As an aside and leaving Birdland for a moment, Seattle’s Julio Rodriguez won the AL Rookie of the Year award over Rutschman in 2022. At the end of April, he had fanned 30 times his first 20 games batting .206/.284/.260/.544 with no homers and six RBIs. By the end of the year the then 21-year-old Rodriguez had an .853 OPS.

In that 2022 season, Gunnar Henderson came up to the majors late in the year with a solid .788 OPS in 34 games. Was his career ready to take off? Not quite yet if you remember how he began the 2023 season.

Thru May 12 he was batting .170/.341/.310/.651 with 37 strikeouts in 33 games and some among the fanbase calling for him to return to the minors. The O’s stuck with him, he got a bit more aggressive earlier in counts, his bat took off and the O’s patience was rewarded. Have the patience and manage the expectations. They did and Gunnar rewarded the organization with a draft pick after he won ROY.

We can go back to the beginning of the careers in the majors last season for Colton Cowser. He hit .115 with an OPS of .433 in 26 games. But he is having a huge spring this time around in Sarasota.

Right-hander Grayson Rodriguez, at the end of last May, had an ERA of 7.35 and an opponent OPS allowed of .956. He would go back to the minors and return looking like a different pitcher with much better results.

You want O’s history?

Cal Ripken Jr., a Hall of Famer, had poor big league starts in both 1981 and 1982. In the 1981 season, his first in the bigs, he hit .128 over 23 games.

He began the 1982 season with Baltimore and was 9-for-65 on May 3, batting .139 with one homer and an OPS of .395. He ended the year batting .264 with 28 homers, 93 RBIs, an OPS of .792 and a Rookie of the Year award. A season later he was AL MVP, and the Orioles were World Champions.

We have to keep this all in considerations whenever the time comes for players like Jackson Holliday, Coby Mayo, Connor Norby and others.

If players that went on to win a ROY can struggle and those that are now established stars including a Hall of Famer can, it can happen to anyone.

Patience and expectations.

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