It’s pretty low-hanging fruit to compare the Orioles’ 2019 season to a bad stretch of weather. The fact that on the field, in the wins-and-losses business, this new regime is hunkering down for a long stretch of bad weather is part and parcel of all that a full rebuild implies.
Remember that for all the horror of the 14 years in purgatory, the owner who was running things never threw in any towels and tried to start all over again. That was relatively tame compared to what we are seeing on the field right now.
But for two glorious days, the sun — along with the heat and humidity — did shine on Baltimore baseball.
On Tuesday, June 25 — ironically the day Manny Machado would rear his head and talents back at Camden Yards — the Orioles introduced Adley Rutschman to the city, organization and media. And yes, there were even appearances by Rutschman in the batting cage during batting practice and on the field during the game. The young catcher waved to the 21,449 fans in attendance as part of the latter.
It was both good theater and a good start for Orioles general manager Mike Elias, who has worked nonstop to not miss out on any opportunities this draft held in store for his lean franchise.
It’s great news for Orioles fans that after some time in Sarasota, Fla., and in the Gulf Coast League, young Mr. Rutschman will be in Aberdeen for a stint as an Ironbird (or a Steamed Crab or a Legacy) at Ripken Stadium.
Rutschman, who looks to have a great stroke, quick hands and some silly power, will have his development timed to see him in Birdland perhaps the second half of 2022 or as the full-time starter in 2023.
This is just a fact of life when your star player is in the rebuild lane on the highway to stardom. While there will not be undue delay, it just doesn’t make sense to immediately eat up his control time in orange and black playing for a 60-65 win team.
This despite the fact that Ben McDonald, who knows a thing or two about this 1-1 stuff, has said he could play in the big leagues next season. One scout told me a GM told him Rutschman could play in the big leagues right now.
Rutschman’s Baltimore tour gave way to another important moment in “O’s Rebuild History.” Elias welcomed the Henderson family June 26 to introduce the Elias regime’s first-ever overslot signing: Gunnar Henderson, the left-handed hitting shortstop from Alabama.
Henderson’s slot value at No. 42 — the top pick in the second round — was $1.77 million. Unlike college seniors, Henderson had leverage. He had the option to go play with his older brother, Jackson, at Auburn, and he knew the Orioles couldn’t afford not to sign their No. 2 pick.
That meant that the Orioles must find the soft spot between Henderson’s heart and passion to play baseball immediately and the practicality of his family knowing his true worth. That soft spot commanded an additional $530,000, which brought Henderson’s total signing bonus to a reported $2.3 million.
Henderson, soon to be 18 years old, will now start a longer path back to Camden Yards than Rutschman. If he moves fast and doesn’t have too many growing pains, he could be playing for the Orioles in 2023 or 2024.
Henderson didn’t duck the question about what position he sees himself playing in the big leagues. While a lot of scouts see him as a third baseman eventually, Henderson was about as defiant as a 17-year-old playing on a big-league podium can be in declaring that he sees himself as a shortstop.
The left-handed hitter will also spend some time in Sarasota just getting acclimated to professional ball, and then he’ll play in the Gulf Coast League. His ascent will come at a slower and steadier pace than Rutchsman’s.
There are just over three months left in this awful first season of a rebuild. It’s trying on everyone from Elias to Brandon Hyde to the beer vendors. We wish we could just push a button and fast forward.
But the process is the process, and in the climate the Orioles are living in right now, these past two days have provided a much-needed respite and glimpse at the better days ahead to everyone intimately involved — including a hungry fan base.
Photo Credit: Stan “The Fan” Charles/PressBox