Rutschman should lead charge from farm to major leagues

One is not officially signed yet and one is, but the Orioles have contract agreements in place with infielder Rougned Odor and right-handed pitcher Jordan Lyles. The Odor deal was announced and Lyles’ pact will become official after the lockout ends.

The term placeholder - not a favorite of mine - comes to mind here. They were not added to be key players of the club’s core moving forward. They were added to help now, eat innings, hit a few homers, hold down a position while the club waits for younger players to emerge.

The most exciting aspect of the 2022 season for the Orioles figures to be the emergence of more youth on the big league club. That is led by catcher Adley Rutschman. For fans, he can’t get there soon enough. And whether his arrival comes on opening day 2022, which seems unlikely, especially under the old rules, or shortly thereafter, it will be the most anticipated by the fan base since Matt Wieters first game in Baltimore on May 29, 2009.

Wieters’ arrival was huge news - so huge that then-general manager Andy MacPhail announced the big event days in advance. The day of Wieters’ debut produced a media frenzy in the Baltimore clubhouse not seen before or since. Some reporters literally ran to stake out a good interview spot in front of Wieters’ overcrowded locker. It was a mess, and when it comes time for Rutschman, hopefully that scene is handled differently. If we are even back in a clubhouse by then, he said with high hopes.

But we digress here from the bigger point - will Rutschman’s arrival signal a mess exodus from the farm to the big league club?

Thumbnail image for Stowers-Hits-Bowie-White-Sidebar.jpgHis arrival should be among the first of many to happen during 2022. How far behind will corner outfielder Kyle Stowers be? And what about recent 40-man pitching additions Kyle Bradish, Kevin Smith, DL Hall, Félix Bautista and Logan Gillaspie? Of that pitching group, Bradish is closest to ready, having thrown 86 2/3 Triple-A innings last year to a 4.26 ERA.

Bradish is the third-highest rated O’s pitching prospect behind Grayson Rodriguez and Hall, sitting at is No. 8 via MLBPipeline.com and No. 9 in the Baseball America O’s top 30. His fastball velocity has increased since he was acquired in the trade of Dylan Bundy to the Los Angeles Angels and now sits in the mid-90s, touching a bit more at its best, and his slider is rated a bit ahead of his curveball, with his changeup a bit behind those two offerings.

Bradish pitched to a 1.80 ERA with Norfolk in September. And, over his last four Tides starts, he allowed two earned runs in 20 innings for an ERA of 0.90 with six walks to 24 strikeouts. There are those within the organization that believe when he is at his best his talent can rival that of Rodriguez and Hall. That is high praise.

And speaking of Rodriguez, when does he make his debut? O’s executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias has said pitching at Triple-A does not have to be a prerequisite for Rodriguez before he pitches in the majors. He could go to Triple-A this year, yes, but his stay there could be short.

He was named both the Orioles’ Jim Palmer Award winner as their Minor League Pitcher of the Year. He was also named Pitcher of the Year in the Double-A Northeast. He is the highest-rated pitching prospect in the game and is No. 7 on the Baseball America national top 100 and No. 8 on MLBPipeline.com.

In its write-up of Rodriguez for its Double-A Northeast top prospects article, Baseball America noted that most managers had Rodriguez as the best starter in that league ahead of the Nationals’ Cade Cavalli. Scouts said that he has a floor of a No. 2 starter and that, at his best, Rodriguez could be a future ace.

“He can pitch as a big leaguer right now,” one National League scout told Baseball America. “He has four pitches that are plus or better, and he knows what he’s doing with them and can locate them. When he’s on, he’s going to dominate the game. And when he’s not, he can still out-stuff hitters.”

That is exciting to read, and while we should not anoint Rutschman and Rodriguez as franchise saviors, should they arrive and live up to the hype, it likely makes a big difference in the product in the O’s put out at the major league level.

The arrival of that duo, and perhaps Stowers, should pump life into the team and the excitement of adding talented youth should be felt inside and outside of the clubhouse. They will lead the next wave, which at some point could also include infielders Jordan Westburg and Gunnar Henderson. Both players reached Double-A late last year. Their time on the farm could be short, too.

How and when the O’s introduce all this talent to the majors will be fascinating to watch. It’s still a game played by individuals and they have to be handled in a manner best for each. Manny Machado moved to the majors from Bowie and never saw a day at Triple-A. Not just anyone can do that. Some of this group may have instant success as a player like Ryan Mountcastle did. Others may take time, even years, to blossom, as it was for Cedric Mullins.

Who knows how the 2022 Orioles will do. Could it be another 100-loss season? Sure, it could. But as the organization begins to bring this younger core group of prospects to Baltimore and as the future becomes now, the excitement level grows quickly and fans have something to hold out hope for.

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