Orioles top prospect Adley Rutschman is creating a buzz around spring training.
While the dynamic catcher is not expected to make the final roster out of the camp, every swing of the bat creates excitement among his teammates and the limited number of fans allowed to attend games.
Rutschman, of course, is being inundated with questions about the timeline for his major-league debut. However, Rutschman is just enjoying the moment and preparing for the moment when he gets the nod to join the big-league team.
“Whenever people ask me when do I think I should debut, what’s my timeline, what do I think it should be, for me it’s always going to be the same — I’m going to control what I can control,” said Rutschman, who was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 MLB Draft. “I’d like to think I can compete at any level that you put me at just because of who I am. I’d like to think I’m a competitive person and can do those things. But I don’t really know what my timeline looks like. I’m just here to play baseball and get better every day.”
With Rutschman expected to get more seasoning at the minor-league level, the Orioles will likely enter the regular season with two catchers — Pedro Severino and Chance Sisco.
Severino is expected to get most of the workload behind the plate with Sisco as the primary backup who could push for more playing time. But let’s face it — both players are stopgaps until the 23-year-old Rutschman is ready.
Severino did manage to flash in last year’s shortened season. He also was effective in managing a pitching staff that was in flux for most of the year. Severino made 32 starts behind the plate. The Orioles went 15-17 with Severino in those games, and his battery mates posted a 3.89 ERA. Severino threw out 4 of 13 potential base stealers with five passed balls and four errors.
Severino slashed .250/.322/.388 with five home runs and 21 RBIs. His bat got hot in late August when he managed 16 RBIs in 13 games, which tied for the fourth most in the American League during that period. However, he struggled badly down the stretch, hitting .159 in September. Severino has spent some time at designated hitter this spring in addition to catcher.
“Every year is really big for me,” Severino said. “I just want to be more consistent than last year and help my team and my pitchers. Try to do the best for the team.”
Severino could attract interest from other teams at the trade deadline. His $1.8 million salary would be easy to absorb, and he could boost the depth of a club looking to make a playoff run. Severino is also out of minor-league options, which is what forced the Nationals to move on from him in 2019.
An eventual Severino trade would open the door for more playing time for Sisco, who started 22 games at catcher last season. The Orioles went 7-15 with a 5.87 ERA in those games. Overall Sisco slashed .214/.364/.378 with four home runs and 10 RBIs. Sisco did show improved patience at the plate and tied for second on the team in walks (17).
Defensively, he was mostly uneven, throwing out three of 16 potential base stealers (18.75 percent), but had no passed balls and just two errors.
In addition to Rutschman, Severino and Sisco, the Orioles have several other catchers on the spring roster, namely Austin Wynns, Nick Ciuffo and Taylor Davis. Any one of them could see time with the major-league club this season, especially if a trade is finalized.
However, the countdown has officially convened for Rutschman’s debut. He’s embracing the lofty expectations that surround him, but he knows there’s much more work ahead with pitch-calling and controlling the game.
Rutschman also needs more time to further develop his swing, but he’s already shown the potential to be a high-impact player long term and perhaps lead the Orioles back to prominence.
“I’ve been very fortunate to be part of this organization so far and to be with some of the high-quality character people that we have right now running the organization, both players and coaches and people who are part of the development process for all the guys coming up and the guys in the big leagues right now,” Rutschman said. “I think there’s a good, constant wave trending upward right now as far as from the bottom to the top. And I think just the guys that we have right now feel fortunate to be playing again.”
Photo Credit: Eric Nalpas/Baltimore Orioles