SARASOTA, Fla. - The major league education of Adley Rutschman involves more than his at-bats and reps behind the plate.
One of baseball’s top prospects, the first overall selection in the 2019 First-Year Player Draft, has to take some teasing when he isn’t behind the dish.
(Dish it out, take it. That’s where I was going.)
As a small cluster of media members waited this morning to speak with Rutschman at his locker, a veteran teammate asked whether he got a hit yesterday. Someone else wondered if he homered, using baseball slang that at first confused him.
They knew the answers. Rutschman went hitless again after entering the game in the sixth inning. Some friendly needling that makes the kid feel like he belongs. That he blends.
No one is immune. It was just his turn. And he took it all in stride with feet planted in the clubhouse carpet.
Rutschman was batting from the left side yesterday when he watched a third strike from Rays pitcher Tyler Zombro to close out the bottom of the seventh inning. He’s 0-for-4 with two strikeouts coming off the bench, including a fly ball and nubber in front of the plate in Sunday’s home opener.
As the media walked into the clubhouse that morning, Rutschman stood with a teammate watching his at-bat from the previous day against the Braves in North Port. One of the televisions was tuned to a replay of the game and Rutschman wanted to study how Sarasota native Chad Sobotka worked him through five pitches that concluded with a strikeout.
“It’s just trying to get comfortable in the box again and seeing pitches and basically get your timing down,” Rutschman said yesterday after the teasing had subsided.
There’s also catching, which Rutschman was allowed to do yesterday for the first time after replacing Bryan Holaday.
“I was really excited to be back there again, being in a spring training setting,” he said. “I was super-excited to have that opportunity again.”
The days in camp are numbered for everyone. It won’t last forever. But Rutschman is expected to be included in the first round of cuts that could be made early next week.
Nothing that he’s experienced so far has been surprising to him. The catcher hasn’t been caught off guard.
“I kind of came into it with a good understanding of what was going to happen just because of the guys who came before me and what they told me coming in,” he said. “It’s been a fairly easy adjustment just as far as the scheduling goes, but there’s always new things that come up in spring training, especially not being here before.”
The Orioles have 36 pitchers in camp and Rutschman is among seven catchers working with them. As if his mornings and afternoons aren’t already busy.
Is he a note-keeper? Does he contain the information in his head, a mental index of pitch sequencing?
“It definitely is a lot of information to take in, but you get a feel for each guy when you catch his bullpen,” he said. “There’s always that dialogue that goes on before the bullpen and after the bullpen, what the guy is working on, what he needs out of me. So just having that open communication really helps speed up the process of getting to know each guy.”
The bonding with many of these pitchers will carry to minor league camp. Rutschman will file away all of the lessons here.
He’s also going to take the technology introduced to him.
“In the minors last year we did, like, Blast Motion stuff on the bat,” he said. “Now we’re doing K-Vest, which is, like, sequencing with the body. So that’s all new.”
The Braves are sending starter Sean Newcomb and relievers Touki Toussaint, Mark Melancon, Chris Martin and Luke Jackson.