Rutschman cracks top 20 and Burnes talks cutter in camp

With the acquisition of right-hander Corbin Burnes, the Orioles ended up with two starting pitchers and five players ranked on the list of MLB Network’s Top 100 players right now.

The list was completed this week with Atlanta’s Ronald Acuna Jr. ranked No. 1 after a season with 41 homers and 73 steals – becoming the first 40/70 player in baseball history.

Mookie Betts of the Dodgers was rated No. 2 with Aaron Judge of the Yankees No. 3 and Dodgers ranking No. 4 and No. 5 with Shohei Ohtani and Freddie Freeman. Three of the first five are Dodgers and two of the top nine are Yankees with right-hander Gerrit Cole at No. 9.

Baltimore catcher Adley Rutschman, who was No. 41 on this list last year, moves up to No. 19. He was one spot ahead of Kansas City’s Bobby Witt Jr., just as he was one spot ahead of him atop the 2019 MLB Draft.

Rutschman finished 2023 with an .809 OPS along with 20 homers, 84 runs, 92 walks and 80 RBIs. He finished tied for third in the AL in walks and fifth in OBP. He was ninth in voting for AL MVP.

Burnes, the 2021 National Leaue Cy Young winner, was No. 29 on the list with Gunnar Henderson No. 34, Kyle Bradish No. 73 and Anthony Santander at No. 86.

Burnes was the fourth-highest rated starting pitcher behind Cole at No. 9 with Spencer Strider No. 17 and Zack Wheeler No. 28. He was one spot ahead of Blake Snell at No. 30.

Burnes talks about the cutter: Some pitchers are very successful getting outs at the top of the strike zone and above it with four-seam fastballs. New Oriole Corbin Burnes, for all his success, is not one of them.

As he explained in an interview this week with MASN All Access, Burnes’ four-seam fastball has some cut to it and rather than try to make it a pitch he could elevate, he uses it now as his cutter. And he has one of the best cutters in MLB.

“I’ve always had natural cut on my fastball,” Burnes told All Access. “For years, was always trying to throw the four-seam at the top (of the strike zone) with the good ride that you see a lot of guys are able to do. And the more I tried to do it, I just realized I couldn’t do that. The way my arm and hand worked, I could not get the spin efficiency that a lot of those guys can do. Which means, I was just more on the side of the baseball than they were.

“So, instead of trying to fight the cut action and trying to throw it straight, I said you know what, ‘I’m just going to keep throwing this four-seam fastball as hard as I can. If it cuts, great.' The more I threw it, the more I just kind of let it go, the more comfortable I got with it. That is really all it is. A four-seam fastball with some cut to it."

For three straight years, going by the Statcast metric pitch run value, Burnes' cutter has ranked No. 1 in the majors, and he was tied for first in the 2020 season.

It is a pitch he used 55 percent of the time, meaning just 45 percent for all the rest including a curveball that got a 49 percent whiff rate in 2023. Last season batters hit just .209 off Burnes' cutter with a .387 expecting slugging average.

The pitch is big for him, even though it is one that doesn't generate as much swing as miss as his breaking pitches. But one that he can use to both get ahead and put away hitters.

Burnes, it was announced yesterday, is going to start the O's spring training opener on Saturday at Ed Smith Stadium versus the Boston Red Sox. 


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