It was in a mostly empty stadium and it was merely an intrasquad game. There was not exactly a playoff intensity at hand. But in that environment Saturday night, Adley Rutschman was on the field at Camden Yards. On a diamond where future stardom is predicted for him, he took the field as a player for the first time.
Rutschman, the club’s second No. 1 overall draft pick in team history, walked against right-handers Kohl Stewart and Hunter Harvey and grounded out against righty Miguel Castro. He caught left-hander Richard Bleier for a quick 1-2-3 inning.
During a Zoom interview today, Rutschman said that debut was pretty special to him.
“Being able to stand in the box and see big league arms and just take it all in for the first time, it’s something you never get back,” he said. “Just reminds me of the first time I stood in at the College World Series. The first time I stood in at a college stadium with the (Oregon State) Beavers. You just never get that first time back. You know, I’m hoping there will be another first time at every single stadium, whatever it is. But just to have that first feeling, it’s unbelievable and just so exciting. You never get it back.”
Usually by this time each summer, Rutschman would have had a lot of games under his belt, whether it was a summer college league or his time on the Orioles farm after the draft last June.
“I mean there is definitely ... you know, I want to be playing,” Rutschman said. “There is that aspect to it. But the biggest thing for me is getting live at-bats and trying to improve as much as I can right now. You know, without that (normal) adrenaline and getting the juices flowing. But as far as right now, being at Camden Yards and getting to hit on a big league field, there is definitely adrenaline going on. When you get on a big league field for the first time and are hitting off some of the big league guys, it’s definitely an adrenaline rush for me, just being my first time.
“I think just the opportunity to be at a big league ballpark with big league guys. Much like spring training, it’s a tremendous learning opportunity for me. Just being able to be with all the coaches from a catching standpoint, you know catching big league guys, seeing what they like to do. It’s all been beneficial. Just excited to be here and just to be able to learn from everyone around.”
The Most Outstanding Player of the 2018 College World Series, Rutschman got into 37 games last season between the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Orioles, short-season Single-A Aberdeen and Single-A Delmarva. In 130 at-bats, he batted .254/.351/.423 with eight doubles, a triple, four homers and 26 RBIs.
During the sport’s shutdown, Rutschman said the O’s player development staff did a good job keeping tabs on and communicating with the players.
“I feel like the program just did a tremendous job as a whole of keeping guys engaged,” he said. “We had Zoom calls every single week. Multiple ones if you want to (take part), just doing like yoga sessions, meditation, mindfulness meetings, cooking and some book clubs there as well. We had a lot of options and it really helped guys stay together during that time.
“From a physical standpoint, as far as the weight training went, we had programs sent out to all the guys. They were able to stay on top of their stuff. I felt like when I came back here, all the movement patterns we were doing, I felt comfortable doing them right out of the gate. So I felt they just did a great job of communicating from our end.”
Rutschman, rated as the No. 4 prospect in baseball by MLBPipeline.com and No. 5 by Baseball America, draws strong scouting grades for both his hitting and his catching. He said there is a lot to be gained by catching bullpen sessions - both earlier in Florida and since he arrived at Camden Yards as an addition to the 60-man player pool on Friday.
“I think just pitching as a whole, every single pitcher wants to do something different,” he said. “They want, you know, a different setup, a different target, different pitch calling. So just getting comfortable with each one of those guys from a personal standpoint is very important. I think it’s cool to see that from big league guys especially. They’ve been around for a while and know exactly what they’re doing. I’m still trying to learn as much as a I can. And then, from a technique standpoint, being able to get with all the big league coaches to understand what it takes at the highest level is just important for me because I’m just trying to get better.
“Catching is a very technical thing and there are a lot of small, small adjustments that can be made. And it’s very tough to see. But our coaches do a great job of explaining it and I feel, from that end, it’s been a very productive couple of months.”
There is no indication from the Orioles that they intend to use Rutschman in any games this year. At worst, he gets reps in intrasquads at the secondary site in Bowie. Is there any talk of the club using him this season?
“I have no idea and, you know, it’s not really up to me,” he said. “I’m just here to do the best I can and get better every day. Whatever comes as result of that, it’s meant to be. So I’m just glad to be here right now.”
During his Zoom session, manager Brandon Hyde was asked how close Rutschman is to the majors.
“Well, this is Adley Rutschman’s first full year and he’s not even getting it,” Hyde said. “So that is going to be ... we’ve lost some development time for him so I’m not going to speculate on when he’s going to make his major league debut or when that is going to be.”