Will 2021 see O's top prospect in Baltimore?

It is not a pressing question, but rather an intriguing one for the Orioles: Will catcher Adley Rutschman make his major league debut in 2021?

That might seem quite unlikely for a player with just 130 professional at-bats and 12 games of full-season ball - and that at low Single-A - on his resume. But of all the prospects that were fortunate enough to play at alternate camps this year with no minor league season, he may have gained among the most. It's pretty clear that Rutschman got in valuable time catching some of the club's top-level pitchers - and pitchers that were in the majors this year. And he got in at-bats against the same group. He also played at the O's instructional league.

Executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias has indicated that Rutschman is likely to start next season at the Double-A level. Things are moving fast here and that could culminate in a Baltimore debut before the end of the 2021 season.

When I interviewed Jonathan Mayo of MLBPipeline.com recently about the O's farm system, he said he expected to see exactly that.

Thumbnail image for Rutschman-Bullpen-Glove-Up-ST-sidebar.jpg"There are certain players that just their singular presence moves you up some (in organizational rankings) and Adley Rutschman is one of the those kind of players," Mayo said. "I would be surprised if he's not in the big leagues in 2021. And I don't think I'm going way out on a limb here. I think he got valuable experience at the alternate site catching high-level pitchers that ended up in the big leagues, guys like Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer. And I don't think there is a whole lot he needs to do to contribute at the big league level. It's not going to take very long, just time to get some more reps and at-bats in competition. But if you told me he could be in Baltimore by the All-Star break, I would have no problem believing that."

After he signed a minor league deal with the Colorado Rockies recently, I asked former O's lefty Brian Gonzalez about some of the players he was among this summer at the Bowie camp.

I asked Gonzalez about Rutschman, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 draft by the Orioles. He is ranked as the club's No. 1 prospect and is No. 2 in the MLBPipeline.com top 100 and No. 3 via Baseball America.

Did Rutschman look like a 1/1 pick in the Bowie camp?

"Yeah, I think so. He has everything," Gonzalez said. "The biggest thing that I saw was his willingness to learn and to listen. He's super comfortable and was real fun to throw to. He was the one asking questions. I think that is unique, being around guys picked that high and that are that talented. They know what they are good at and they keep doing it. But for him to really want to learn and listen and get every pitcher's feedback and even when he was hitting he would ask questions.

"It's constant learning and that is why he is special. You know his bat is incredible and his defense got better and better every time I threw to him. And he is just learning the game a little bit at that pace and facing a lot of Double-A and Triple-A guys and guys with big league time. His pitch calling got better and better, too. The willingness to learn though was the biggest thing."

In a recent article about players that stood out at instructional league camps, Baseball America cited Rutschman as a player that showed talent and polish. Baseball America said evaluators noted that not only is he ready now for the big leagues, but he would immediately become one of Major League Baseball's best catchers when promoted.

That is a pretty strong endorsement for Rutschman to play in the majors in 2021. But there is no rush here, and if the O's decide to take more time, they surely can.

Rutschman would not be the first top O's prospect to possibly see Double-A ball and head right to the majors, skipping Triple-A. Manny Machado did that in 2012.

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