Rutschman ready for 2021 workload and high expectations

Exactly one year ago, top Orioles prospect Adley Rutschman sat down in manager Brandon Hyde’s spring training office and heard that he was reassigned to minor league camp. News that he understood was coming to him.

Rutschman reported to the Ed Smith Stadium complex today and found his name on the lineup card as the designated hitter against the Tigers. His stay has been extended.

The Orioles don’t plan on taking Rutschman to Boston for the opening series. His reassignment is pending. And the questions about the 2019 first-overall draft pick’s highly anticipated arrival in the majors will persist.

Thumbnail image for Rutschman-Swing-White-ST-jpg“Whenever people ask me when do I think I should debut, what’s my timeline, what do I think it should be, for me it’s always going to be the same,” Rutschman said today on his Zoom call. “I’m going to control what I can control, and I’d like to think I can compete at any level that you put me at just because of who I am. I’d like to think I’m a competitive person and can do those things. But I don’t really know what my timeline looks like. I’m just here to play baseball and get better every day.”

Rutschman was 1-for-9 last year before packing for Twin Lakes Park. He’s 1-for-5 with an RBI double this spring.

His every move is studied, scrutinized and publicized.

“Beyond the safety measures there’s not a whole lot that’s different,” he said. “The safety measures do put, definitely, a spin on things, but as far as the work that we’re getting done and just the overall feel and morale right now, it feels about the same. I think everyone’s just excited to be here and playing baseball again.

“As far as the personalities we have on the team, I’ve been very fortunate to be part of this organization so far and to be with some of the high-quality character people that we have right now running the organization, both players and coaches and people who are part of the development process for all the guys coming up and the guys in the big leagues right now. So I think there’s a good, constant wave trending upward right now as far as from the bottom to the top. And I think just the guys that we have right now feel fortunate to be playing again.”

Rutschman lost a professional season with the cancellation of the minors, but his development wasn’t stalled. He should be able to jump a level and land at Double-A Bowie, which begins play in early May.

“I think the alternate site helped quite a bit,” he said. “Just being able to get those three months in of work, facing pitchers live again and being able to catch some of the guys over there helped a lot. So as far as that goes, I’d like to think that some of the stuff we’re trying to do as far as pitch-calling, controlling the game and just having those three months of being able to work on my swing and what-not, I’d just like to think I’m an overall better player from that.

“I think the biggest thing as far as (pitch-calling) goes is knowing the pitcher, pitching their strengths, and there’s a lot of analytics coming out about each individual pitcher and then the weaknesses of the guys we’re facing. So it’s just a combination of knowing the opponent, knowing the pitcher and just getting comfortable with that process. And it’s very important.”

The alternate site allowed Rutschman to catch top pitching prospects Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall. He’s growing more familiar with the arms in the organization in a variety of settings.

“I think I’m definitely getting a better sense for each guy coming up right now,” said Rutschman, who set the target for Rodriguez in a game at Single-A Delmarva in 2019. “Every single time I catch someone, you learn a little more about them, so just having the time at the alternate site last year and then having the time right now to catch bullpens and catch guys in games, everything helps. And I think we’re definitely moving in the right direction.”

Rutschman worked out in Oregon during the offseason and immersed himself in activities that began during the shutdown. The Orioles created book clubs and mindset exercises with mental-skills coach Kathryn Rowe.

Players got into meditation and the breathing techniques used to slow down the game.

“I think the most important thing for me is understanding, having the ability to be able to step back from the game and just realizing how fortunate you are to be able to play the game, I think, just puts everything in perspective first and foremost,” he said.

“You’re able to step back and just see everything as an opportunity, as opposed to a pressure situation. So, I think that’s the first thing. Then, just being able to control your mind and your body and being able to relax and breathe, I guess.”

Rutschman can’t avoid the attention, can’t prevent fans from calling him the face of the rebuild, so he’ll just take it in stride.

Pressure is a familiar companion and he’s never run from it.

“I think it’s a very fortunate and humbling position to be in, to have people say that, but you know I think it gets easier every day,” Rutschman said. “Every single day that I’m here playing baseball, it gets a little easier.”

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