So it appears as though we’re a week out.
There’s nothing official yet, but the common belief is that baseball’s No. 1 prospect, Adley Rutschman, will make his debut for the Baltimore Orioles when the Yankees come to town next week. It will present the first truly significant moment at Camden Yards since the Buck Showalter era.
As Rutschman plays what is expected to be his final week in the minors, I’ve had two very conflicting thoughts wander through my mind regarding his pending debut. (I mean, beyond the obvious excitement of the moment and the broadened interest in the team that will arrive with the new catcher.)
The first thought acts as almost a bit of a disclaimer. I’m admittedly worried that our expectations for Rutschman are so outlandish that he might not be able to reach them. We’ve used Matt Wieters as a reference so frequently since 2019 that we’re almost numb to the conversation. But the juxtaposition remains real. Wieters was a four-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove winner who was a cornerstone piece for the best Orioles teams of the century.
And yet our expectations were so outrageous (in part due to how bleak reality was when he arrived in 2009) that he’s viewed as at least a bit of a disappointment by a significant portion of the fan base.
Even if we should know better, the expectations for Rutschman are … even more significant than they originally were for Wieters. You know, the guy we called “Mauer With Power” and literally “JESUS IN CLEATS.” Our expectations for Rutschman are even more significant than friggin’ Jesus. The only way Rutschman can rise to the level of our expectations is if he swings the bat of Mike Piazza AND has the catching prowess of Ivan Rodriguez.
We’re setting a damn near impossible standard.
Rutschman is obviously quite special. Perhaps you’ve read more about him in the pages of the current PressBox on stands now. He’s a little bit different than even your average top prospect throughout the years. It is hard to fathom him not panning out to at least an amount of stardom within the sport. But an amount of stardom is what Wieters experienced in his career. If Rutschman turns out to be Wieters, that will be an even bigger disappointment than when Wieters turned out to be Wieters.
(For the record, I’m not saying it’s IMPOSSIBLE that Rutschman will prove to be the Piazza-Pudge lovechild we’re desperate for. I’m just saying there’s at least like a 1 percent chance he won’t prove to be the greatest player in the history of the sport.)
So this feels like where I am supposed to say something like “please temper your exorbitant expectations.” But remember … my second thought creates significant conflict. Because my second thought is closer to “but if he doesn’t become this Piazza-Pudge cyborg, is there any hope for the Orioles? Doesn’t he HAVE to be just that great for this to work?”
That’s the part I can’t shake. It’s the part where the Orioles’ entire rebuild seems to hinge on whether Rutschman reaches “GOAT”-like status. The Orioles organization has received praise as being tops in baseball, but those rankings disappear the moment Rutschman arrives in Charm City. While Grayson Rodriguez’s prominence will keep the Birds near the top of the rankings, their status reflects the top-heavy nature of featuring the sport’s top position player and pitching prospects.
The Orioles have other talented players throughout the organization and have another No. 1 overall pick coming in this summer’s MLB Draft. But if Rutschman doesn’t become a transcendent type of superstar, it is difficult to see the path to how this rebuild can produce a roster capable of winning a World Series, particularly coming through the brutal AL East. There is certainly enough talent and potential talent for the Orioles to be competitive if Rutschman proves to merely be a really solid baseball player. But to win a World Series?
I mean, even IF Rutschman becomes a historic type of player, they’re still going to need some other players to exceed expectations to create a championship-caliber roster. There’s a chance Rutschman could be the greatest catcher in modern baseball history and the Orioles still might not be able to produce a full group capable of winning a World Series. But it’s nearly impossible to imagine they can without Rutschman being that guy.
Which, again, is a totally unfair level of expectation. It’s outlandish, it’s unreasonable, it’s all of the above. But it might also be necessary within the big picture of where the Orioles are in their rebuilding process.
Photo Credit: Eric Nalpas/Baltimore Orioles