The trio got the biggest honors on the Orioles farm when the awards were announced by the club Sunday afternoon. Catcher Adley Rutschman and outfielder Kyle Stowers were co-winners of the Brooks Robinson Minor League Player of the Year Award. Pitcher Grayson Rodriguez was a clear choice to take the Jim Palmer Minor League Pitcher of the Year Award.
Honors well deserved after each has had a great season.
Rutschman has played 118 games between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk, batting .287/.399/.515/.914 with 25 doubles, two triples, 23 homers, 83 runs and 74 RBIs.
Stowers has played for three affiliates, adding high Single-A Aberdeen to Bowie and Norfolk. In 120 games, he has hit .282/.385/.528/.913 with 23 doubles, a triple, 72 runs and 83 RBIs.
Rodriguez made 23 starts between Aberdeen and Bowie, going 9-1 with a 2.36 ERA in 103 1/3 innings with 27 walks, 161 strikeouts, a .159 average against and WHIP of 0.83.
Next question: When will they arrive in Baltimore?
Seeing young homegrown talent like Ryan Mountcastle and Austin Hays produce for the Orioles has to be exciting for fans, and they join other homegrown talents that preceded them on the big league roster like John Means, Trey Mancini and Cedric Mullins.
But none of those five were ever ranked as the No. 1 prospect in baseball, as Rutschman is now. Or as the No. 1 pitching prospect in baseball, as Rodriguez is now. Add in Stowers after a monster, breakout year, and their arrivals are no doubt being heavily anticipated by fans all over Birdland.
Rutschman’s ETA could be very early next season, perhaps as soon as opening day. Recently, during a MASN telecast, O’s executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias indicted he is open to Rodriguez and Rutschman both breaking north for opening day 2022.
That seems a little quick here and we have to wait to see what this winter holds for the collective bargaining agreement. Will any roster rules change that makes it more or less likely that one or both run down the orange carpet for the opener next March 31?
From a baseball readiness standpoint, both Rutschman and Rodriguez are just about ready for the majors. Sure, it’s true that Rodriguez has never pitched at Triple-A. If the Orioles determine next year that he needs to check that box, at least for a handful of starts, his ETA could be early, but not at the start of the 2022 season. But his day is likely soon coming.
One question any major league organization must ask about every prospect it calls to the majors is how will they handle struggles and adversity? Rutschman and Rodriguez have not had much of that. But both seem so mature, along with being confident enough and smart enough to realize there would be some struggles at the highest level. Fans have a right to hope they both blossom into stars, but that may not happen right away. It may not happen - even some of the highest-rated prospects miss. But if Rutschman or Rodriguez struggle at the outset, I don’t see it hurting their confidence. Would they possibly have to return to the minors? Maybe. Mullins did. But this pair are elite talents, and beyond the physical tools, they now have the mental skills to handle big league ups and downs.
Stowers has had a very strong year over three levels, playing 36 games at Aberdeen, 66 at Bowie and now 18 at Triple-A. Could he begin the 2022 season back on the farm to get more work at Triple-A? Certainly, and that is probably likely, but his day is coming, too, and probably sooner than later.
He leads the O’s organization with 27 homers this year, producing some of the best exit velocities seen by any player on the Baltimore farm. Ranked as the No. 11 O’s prospect by MLBPipeline.com and No. 17 by Baseball America, he’s going to go higher when new rankings are released. MLBPipeline.com graded his fielding at 50 and his arm at 55 on the 20-80 scouting scale. Bowie manager Buck Britton told me Stowers had a decent year on defense, but thinks the club can work with him to continue to improve his first-step quickness in getting better reads and jumps on balls.
We can all guess and speculate at exact dates for this trio to arrive in Baltimore and/or how much more time they need on the farm. But we should see all three at some point during the 2022 season. And that is very exciting.
And then you look at some others on the farm that could arrive next year and/or be not too far behind the trio discussed here, and it’s starting to get more and more exciting around Birdland.
The award winners announced Sunday represent some of the real cream of the crop of an O’s farm system now ranked No. 1 by MLBPipeline.com and No. 2 by Baseball America. Their days to begin to help the big club are close at hand.