In December 2020, the Orioles signed Nick Ciuffo to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training as their annual move to improve their catching depth and increase competition for the backup job. Only, in this instance, they didn’t target the typical veteran experience.
They signed Bryan Holaday and Taylor Davis to minor league deals on the same day in January 2020. They broke camp with Jesús Sucre and Pedro Severino in 2019. Austin Wynns was on the injured list. He could be the backup in 2022.
Adley Rutschman is the eventual starter, whether it happens on opening day or in May. Whether service time is manipulated or expiration of the collective bargaining agreement influences his placement on the 40-man roster.
The debut is coming.
The watch will be over.
The No. 1 prospect in baseball, the first-overall selection in the 2019 draft, is set to do more at Camden Yards than accept his co-Minor League Player of the Year Award and chat with media in the dugout.
The industry seems to be in agreement that he’s ready. It’s just a matter of when he takes his first swings in a major league game rather than if he does.
“I think so, yeah,” said reliever Paul Fry, who was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk on Aug. 29, three weeks after Rutschman’s arrival, and spent the rest of the summer with the Tides.
“Whether it’s to break camp or not, time will tell, but he can definitely handle it. And when it comes down to it, it’s just baseball. The outside pressures, you can’t even think about them. I have no idea what it’s like one/one, but I think he does a great job of blocking that out and sticking to his process.
“Adley does his work behind the plate and it was fun throwing to him in games that mean something. The last 10-game stretch there was kind of like playoffs for Triple-A. A lot of good hitters on that team. And Adley stole me some strikes here and there and threw out some runners, so very impressed by him, the way he goes about his business.”
Hunter Harvey pitched in four games with Norfolk while on the injured list with a strained lat muscle, the first on Aug. 18 in Charlotte. Rutschman was behind the plate for all of them.
“He’s a great guy,” Harvey said. “I love throwing to him. He’s a really good target, he receives the ball well. He swings the bat, obviously, really good. He’s a great guy, a good team guy, a good clubhouse guy. I’m sure he’ll be up there before too long. He’ll be definitely good for the team.
“He definitely has the skills. There ain’t no joke with him. He’s got everything. He’s got what you want to have.”
Fry was impressed by the “energy and chemistry” of the Norfolk team, which is undergoing significant changes with manager Gary Kendall and pitching coach Kennie Steenstra informed that they won’t return.
“I know it’s minor league baseball,” Fry said, “but everything there was refreshing and all the guys were professional.”
Harvey did some throwing in Sarasota before joining an affiliate on his injury rehab assignment. He got an up-close look at a latest batch of prospects who were reporting to the Rookie-level Florida Complex League, and it made him feel even better about the organization’s standing in the rebuild.
“I guess that would be the only really good thing I could bring out about this season was being down there with all those guys,” he said. “I was in Florida when all the new draft guys got there this year, with (Colton) Cowser and all those guys. Just seeing those guys, there’s definitely a change coming. That’s a fact.”
His impression of Cowser, the fifth-overall selection from Sam Houston State? Besides how the kid can flat-out hit?
“I wasn’t around him but maybe a month or so. Seemed like a good guy,” Harvey replied. “A little goofy, but I mean, they’re all a little goofy.”
* On this date in 2014, the Orioles moved within one game of elimination in the American League Championship Series following a 2-1 loss in Kansas City.
Every line drive from the Orioles found a glove. The Royals kept finding the outfield grass, and their speed, defense, bullpen and good fortune were separators in the series.
They took a 3-0 lead in games with former Orioles starter Jeremy Guthrie allowing one run and three hits in five innings. Jason Frasor, Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland each tossed a scoreless inning in relief, retiring the side in order in dominant fashion.
Wei-Yin Chen allowed two runs and seven hits in 5 1/3 innings. What I forgot was how Kevin Gausman retired all eight batters he faced in relief.
Maybe I was still coming out of my barbecue coma.
No one knew that the window had started to close on the Orioles, who also lost 2-1 the following day to complete the sweep. They’d finish .500 in 2015, lose the 2016 Wild Card game in Toronto, collapse in September 2017 and begin the teardown in July 2018.
Getting to the 2014 ALCS was quite the achievement considering how the lineup was missing Chris Davis, Manny Machado and Matt Wieters. Steve Pearce was the first baseman in Game 3, Ryan Flaherty started at third base and Nick Hundley was behind the plate.
* The Mesa Solar Sox played their first Arizona Fall League game yesterday, losing to the Surprise Saguaros 5-0.
Kyle Stowers started in right field, batted third and went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts.
Stowers was the only Orioles minor leaguer to appear in the game.
* Praying for a speedy recovery for former Orioles pitcher David Hess, who shared on social media yesterday the discovery of a cancerous germ cell tumor in the center of his chest that’s pressing against his heart and lungs.
Hess’ treatment plan includes chemotherapy treatments beginning Monday that are intended to shrink and, hopefully, eradicate the tumor entirely.
Hess, 28, was taken to the emergency room a week ago with what he described as “major chest tightness and shortness of breath.” Scans, bloodwork and other tests revealed the tumor.
The Orioles selected Hess in the fifth round in 2014. He became a minor league free agent following the 2020 season and pitched for the Marlins and Rays.