He is a bit of a marked man as the No. 2 ranked prospect in baseball by MLBPipeline.com, by Baseball America and by ESPN. And at No. 2, catcher Adley Rutschman joins just three other Orioles that have ever been as highly rated by the major prospect analysts.
No one has been at the top 100 rankings business as long as Baseball America. The first Baseball America list had O’s right-hander Ben McDonald ranked second in 1990 behind Atlanta’s Steve Avery.
In 2009, Matt Wieters became the one and only Oriole ever to emerge at No. 1 on the initial Baseball America list from any year. He had moved up from No. 12 the previous year. In 2013, Dylan Bundy was No. 2 behind Jurickson Profar of Texas. And now Rutschman is No. 2 behind Tampa Bay infielder Wander Franco.
Calling the role of all-time O’s prospects at No. 2 or higher you hear just those four names: McDonald, Wieters, Bundy and Rutschman.
There are few prospect analysts as knowledgeable or as experienced as Jim Callis, formerly of Baseball America and now with MLB.com and MLBPipeline.com. In a recent Zoom interview, he said Rutschman deserves the lofty rankings.
“Who was the last Orioles prospect as good as Adley Rutschman?” Callis asked during the interview. “Probably (Manny) Machado, I’d guess. I mean, same stage of their careers, if you were just grading out tools, I’d argue that Adley is probably a better prospect than Machado. They’ve very comparable, but Adley is probably a better prospect because he’s a catcher. You just don’t find catchers that can do what Adley Rutschman can do. And they have so much more depth behind Adley Rutschman than they did when Machado was the top guy in the system.”
And Rutschman is already rated higher than Machado, who reached No. 14 in 2011 and No. 11 in 2012.
Callis compared Wieters and Rutschman for fans, who might say that Wieters never exactly became “Mauer with power,” a label hard for any player to live up to. So with that, why should fans get excited about Rutschman?
“For one, Matt Wieters has had a good career for a No. 1 overall prospect, and two, no knock on Wieters, but I think Adley Rutschman is a better defensive player and a better hitter than Matt Wieters.” Callis said. “I think the power and arm strength is similar. But as good as Matt Wieters has been, Adley Rutschman is better.
“He’s got the best catching tools that I’ve seen in a prospect in 30 years of covering this stuff. He has better all-around tools than Joe Mauer, who is more athletic, but didn’t have anywhere close to Rutschman’s power coming out of the draft. And he had more impact with his bat and he’s more polished defensively than Buster Posey was.”
So, yes, that is very, very high praise.
And having Rutschman as their No. 1 ranked player has helped the O’s organizational rating get better. Much better than many seasons over many years. In the recent MLBPipeline.com organization rankings, the Orioles came in at No. 5.
“I went back and looked,” said Callis. “I started at Baseball America toward the end of 1988 and Baseball America with Alan Simpson started ranking organizations back in 1984. And I went back and looked at Baseball America rankings, and at MLB.com, we started ranking the farm systems only in 2015. The Orioles were never higher than eight. That was the highest they’d ever been over like 37 or 38 years. They had been in the top 10 like five times.
“But they are on the upswing,” Callis said. “It is easier to build a good farm system when you are in a total rebuilding phase, that is no great news. But I think the biggest factor has been those first-round picks recently. They got Adley Rutschman No. 1 overall and Heston Kjerstad No. 2 overall. Grayson Rodriguez was No. 11 overall. DL Hall and Ryan Mountcastle were earlier first-round picks.
“So they’ve had some deeper drafts and made trades and are trading veterans for prospects, rather than the other way around. They, years later than they should have been, are starting to get involved internationally, which probably won’t pay off for five or six years down the line, but it was a step they needed to do.
“They have guys who aren’t in the top 100 yet, like Gunnar Henderson and Jordan Westburg, who would have ranked in past years, second or third on their list. They’ve got five top 100s right now. And you have guys in the middle of their list like Terrin Vavra, Hudson Haskin and Kevin Smith, that would have been easy top 10 prospects say five years ago.
“The system just has more top-end talent and depth than it’s had in a while.”
So, yes, the top end and also the bottom end of the Orioles top 30 list has gotten better as drafted and/or acquired players have jumped in and pushed others out. Strong at the top and bottom, and that has helped the O’s rise to No. 5.
Having depth is solid, Callis said, but the top-ranked players are still truly likely to make the most difference.
“It’s quantity and quality. I personally put more weight on the quality,” he said. “Because I think you win with stars. ... But the quantity matters, too. Look at what the Padres are doing right now. They were our No. 1 ranked farm system for a few years. But when you get to the point when you can win, having that depth allows you to make trades to help your team.”
Thanks to Callis for the interview and you can watch our entire Zoom here. Also coming soon here, we get more from Callis, including his take on a couple of players he likes in the second half of the Orioles’ top 30 list.