Adley Rutschman’s professional baseball career has gotten off to a unique start. The catcher was picked first overall by the Baltimore Orioles in the 2019 MLB Draft out of Oregon State and inked a contract that included a then-record $8.1 million signing bonus. He quickly became the rebuilding franchise’s face without having played a game in Camden Yards.
Rutschman spent part of this past spring training with the Orioles, and when the coronavirus pandemic halted workouts March 12, the 22-year-old returned to his Oregon home to hunker down. But nearly four months later, Rutschman is still waiting to get back on the field.
The minor-league season was canceled June 30, and major-league clubs only restarted workouts July 3. Rutschman has not yet rejoined Baltimore, but the time away has not deterred the young star. He created routine workouts to do at his home, which he said has been the best possible preparation for whatever comes next.
“It allowed [me] to make some good strides moving forward, so whenever I get the call, I’m going to be ready,” Rutschman said on Glenn Clark Radio July 9.
When he returned to Oregon after spring training, Rutschman knew he had to find a way to remain in shape. His uncle helped him start up a gym in his parents’ house, complete with a squat rack, bench press and equipment such as medicine balls, weighted vests and resistance bands.
That allowed Rutschman to work out regularly while all the gyms and team facilities were shuttered. He said having a squat rack and bench press was especially helpful, as it allowed him to continue building his strength in ways that might not have been possible without heavy weights.
But the most useful aspect of his home workouts, Rutschman said, was live batting practice. The catcher regularly joined a small group of friends at a local park to work on his swing and avoid becoming rusty. He said he took more than 200 live at-bats during his time at home, in addition to routine tee work.
“[Live scenarios are] where you make the biggest strides,” Rutschman said. “You can do something in BP or off the tee that feels good, but once you get in a game, you realize, ‘Gee, this is just not going to work.’”
While Rutschman looked to improve the best he could, his parent team was in a much tighter situation. The pandemic not only upended Baltimore’s plans with their centerpiece of the future — Rutschman was originally projected to make the majors as early as 2021 — but with the club’s other top prospects, too.
Ryan Mountcastle, Grayson Rodriguez, DL Hall, Keegan Akin, and Yusniel Diaz all had solid 2019 campaigns and seemed poised to take even bigger strides forward for 2020. For Mountcastle and Akin, that could’ve meant promotions to the majors.
But they, like Rutschman and this year’s top draft pick Heston Kjerstad, are now stuck. None have been added to the Orioles’ 60-man roster for this season yet except for Mountcastle (and when Mountcastle will make his big-league debut is still unclear). But even with no minor-league season to fall back on, Rutschman and his fellow prospects are soldiering on.
For Rutschman in particular, that means reflecting on his brief stint in the minors in 2019. He slashed .254/.351/.423 with four home runs and 26 RBIs in 37 games, but he said his biggest takeaway came off the field.
“The routine you create for yourself, during the offseason, in-season and during spring training, [is important],” Rutschman said. “Going through those experiences and being able to understand what routine you’re going to consistently make for yourself is going to allow you to be the best player for [any] given day, and I think that’s something you just have to go through.”
For now, Baltimore is set to open play July 24 in Boston. Though Rutschman will likely join the Orioles’ 60-man roster at some point, he is uncertain if he will see any game action this year.
But whether or not that call from the big league club comes, Rutschman will be ready.
“I’m trying to do the same thing, stay in shape, see live pitching, and just try and keep myself as mentally prepared as I can,” he said. “Just the waiting for that call is what keeps me motivated.”
For more from Rutschman, listen to the full interview here:
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