The Orioles envision a day when Grayson Rodriguez is pitching at the top of the rotation with Adley Rutschman as his batterymate behind the plate.

The two key prospects are expected to lead a renaissance for the beleaguered organization.

“I love Grayson. He’s a great guy,” Rutschman said. “He’s a phenomenal pitcher. It’s been exciting to watch him grow and develop. I am excited to see what he does in the future.”

Rutschman, 23, is the cornerstone of the Orioles’ rebuild. He is the No. 1 prospect in all of baseball, according to Baseball America and MLB Pipeline. He began the year with Double-A Bowie before earning a promotion to Triple-A Norfolk in August.

In 43 games with the Tides, Rutschman hit .312/.405/.490 with nine doubles, two triples, five home runs, 22 runs scored, 20 RBIs and 24 walks. In 80 games for the Baysox, he slashed .271/.392/.508 with 16 doubles, 18 home runs, 61 runs scored, 55 RBIs and 55 walks.

This summer, he was selected to participate in the MLB All-Star Futures Game in Denver. He flew out to left field in the second inning before earning a walk in the fourth.

Rutschman was named Brooks Robinson Minor League Player of the Year by the Orioles, an honor he shared with outfielder Kyle Stowers, who slashed .278/.383/.526 with 23 doubles, a triple, 27 homers and 85 RBIs between High-A Aberdeen, Bowie and Norfolk.

Rutschman figures to make his big-league debut at some point in 2022.

“I just see a player who has an advanced starting point,” Orioles major league field coordinator and catching instructor Tim Cossins said of Rutschman. “He’s really mature and he’s focused on the things he is going to do nightly when he gets here. He’s in a good spot. I’m really impressed with his work ethic from what I heard and what I’ve seen in spring training. He’s exactly as advertised.”

Rodriguez, 21, also shined this season. The right-hander has a chance to make the Orioles’ Opening Day roster out of next year’s spring training, according to general manager Mike Elias.

Rodriguez is ranked by Baseball America and MLB Pipeline as the Orioles’ No. 2 prospect. He pitched well throughout the 2021 season, going 9-1 with a 2.36 ERA in 103 innings between Aberdeen and Bowie. He struck out 161 batters and allowed 58 hits, 10 homers and 27 walks.

Rodriguez was named Jim Palmer Minor League Pitcher of the Year for a second consecutive season. (He also won in 2019, and no award was given in 2020 due to the canceled minor-league season.) He has already developed a bond with Rutschman.

“I love Rutsch like he’s my brother,” Rodriguez said. “I really got to hang out with him and get to know him last summer [at the alternate site]. Obviously, we kept it going this year. I really feel comfortable throwing to him.”

“I’ve been catching a lot of the guys over the past couple of years and hopefully we’ll be winning some ballgames together,” Rutschman said.

The emergence of Rutschman and Rodriguez underscores the talent within the Orioles’ minor-league system, which ranks among the best in baseball. Buck Britton, who managed the Baysox in 2019 and 2021, has seen the talent level of the organization rise during the past several years and expects a brighter future for the Orioles when these young players get to the major-league level.

“You are talking about elite players at the top, but this system as a whole has gotten a lot better,” said Britton, who was the winner of this year’s Cal Ripken Sr. Player Development Award, named for the late coach and manager. “The influx of talent, just in the last couple of years, has been incredible. So, yeah, to have these guys at the top, I think they are going to represent that next wave that gets here and hopefully fit in with the guys playing well here and hopefully this thing turns around pretty quick.”

Rutschman and Rodriguez are looking forward to playing with one another at Camden Yards.

“I think we have a good rapport,” Rutschman said. “We have a good sense of what we’re trying to do going into each game. [It was] a good year with him.”

Rodriguez said Rutschman deserves all of the hype surrounding him as the game’s No. 1 prospect. He is hopeful the Orioles will have something special when the young catcher reaches the majors.

Rodriguez is looking forward to throwing to his batterymate in the years to come.

“He’s potentially one of the best catchers this game has ever seen,” Rodriguez said. “He’s going to be doing it for a long time. So, it’s a lot of fun being able to throw to him every five or six days.”

Photo Credit: William Vaughan/Bowie Baysox

Issue 271: October/November 2021

Todd Karpovich

See all posts by Todd Karpovich. Follow Todd Karpovich on Twitter at @toddkarpovich