The No. 1 prospect in baseball, Triple-A Norfolk catcher Adley Rutschman, has been at the minors’ highest level for just over two weeks now. After starting with eight hits in his first 17 Norfolk at-bats, his hitting has leveled off a bit, but it’s still been a strong start for Rutschman with the Tides.
Earlier, over 80 games with Double-A Bowie, Rutschman hit .271/.392/.508/.901 with 16 doubles, 18 homers and 55 RBIs.
Through 15 games with Norfolk at Triple-A, he’s batting .362/.439/.483/.922 with four doubles, a homer and six RBIs. He walked 55 times and struck out 57 with Bowie and has walked seven times with 11 strikeouts for the Tides.
He has caught 10 games, throwing out two of five runners trying to steal, and has played first base three times and served as the DH once to date.
And so far, says Norfolk manager Gary Kendall, he’s been very much as advertised.
“He’s received very well and his blocking has been good behind the plate,” Kendall said during a phone interview this week. “Offensively, we’ve seen him good from both of the sides of the plate, hitting line drives and showing power. The other night with two strikes he hit a very impressive line-drive single to left. Just used his hands real well on his swing.
“There are so many things to get excited about. Last year I was impressed with him at the alternate site, and this year he’s just been very consistent. Hopefully, he just keeps doing that.”
Triple-A will present, perhaps, a new challenge for Rutschman in facing pitchers both more experienced and with more quality pitches at their disposal.
“Playing six-game series we saw how they were starting to pitch him at the end of our last series,” said Kendall. “More soft stuff, trying to get him to expand a little bit. But he was patient and still put quality swings on the ball. I’m sure teams, the more they see him, will try to manipulate him a little bit and try to find some areas that he may struggle with. But so far, teams haven’t been successful finding it.”
We know Rutschman has outstanding plate discipline with a 14.7 walk rate. Recognizing pitches is a strong point and helps him get into good hitter’s counts. But Kendall points out that his strong bat speed also plays into that aspect of his offense.
“Guys that I see in this league, some don’t have the bat speed,” Kendall said. “If you are missing that, you don’t trust what you see, because you have to commit to the ball sooner. Some guys that struggle in Triple-A that may not have struggled at Double-A are guys that have to get the bat started because of the array of pitches you see at Triple-A that you may not have seen as much at lower levels.
“You see more bad swing decisions that you may not see if you had more bat speed. I see Adley as a guy that can use his hands in his swing, trust what he sees, and some guys are just more patient. Guys that are more comfortable hitting with two strikes. Adley just has good plate discipline, and he had that the first time I saw him. Something really good to see.”
Rutschman is very much a believer in the O’s emphasis on the farm in making good swing decisions.
“I think just trying to create a big emphasis on strike-zone discipline and swinging at pitches in the zone and pitches I can do damage on (is important),” Rutschman said. “So, that’s been a big emphasis for me, and I think it’s led to pretty good results so far. I’m going to try and continue to improve upon that.”
On the farm last night: Right-hander Jean Pinto gave up just one hit and two runs over five innings but got a no-decision as low Single-A Delmarva (57-44) beat Salem 7-3. The Shorebirds are 9-2 since the infusion of the 2021 draft picks, and right now they are three games out of a playoff spot.
Double-A Bowie lost again to Erie 6-5, losing a 5-2 midgame lead, and the Baysox are 1-4 this series. But they still hold the Northeast’s No. 2 playoff spot by a half game over Somerset, which also lost last night.
Right-hander Grayson Rodriguez gave up a first-inning, two-run homer and then nothing else as he allowed three hits over five innings versus Erie, recording nine strikeouts. Johnny Rizer hit a grand slam in the fourth inning to give a Bowie a lead it would not hold.
Triple-A Norfolk lost 1-0 to Jacksonville and high Single-A Aberdeen lost 4-1 at Brooklyn.