The moment was not too big for Adley Rutschman.
Nonetheless, the heralded Orioles catcher took a few seconds to soak in the atmosphere before making his much-anticipated major league debut May 21 against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Much is riding on Rutschman’s success because he is now the face of the franchise, and the Orioles’ future could ride on his performance.
It’s a huge burden, but Rustchman has steely nerves.
“I’d say about as excited as I can be right now,” Rutschman said of his debut. “This is probably the coolest thing, coolest moment that I’ve had so far.”
Rutschman hit a standup triple in his third major league at-bat and he has since been a mainstay in the lineup as he gets acclimated to facing major league pitching.
“I think it’s a new team again, new guys,” Rutschman said. “I’m looking forward to connecting with everyone again, creating those relationships with teammates, coaches, just being on the team again and trying to win together. I think being part of that is special, and I think [it is] the most enjoyable part about baseball.
“I think it’s going to be a learning process on both sides and looking forward to seeing how that goes.”
Rutschman, 24, was the consensus No. 1 prospect in the 2019 MLB Draft after batting .352/.473/.559 with 72 extra-base hits and 174 RBIs in 185 games at Oregon State. He has embraced the lofty expectations that surround him, and he has impressed his teammates with his humility.
Rutschman batted .309/.427/.515 with three home runs and nine RBIs in 19 games across three levels of the minors this season after working his way back from a strained right triceps suffered during spring training. He played 123 games for Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk in 2021, batting .285/.397/.502 with 23 home runs and 85 RBIs.
The Orioles took their time with Rutschman. He’s grateful for the way the organization handled him because it allowed him to become an even better player.
“They’ve really done a great job of encompassing everyone into the same kind of process mindset, trying to get everyone on the same page,” Rutschman said. “From a hitting, defensive standpoint, [that means] guys who come in every day excited, willing to work and willing to help make guys get better. And I think over the course of days, weeks, years, it really adds up. And I can’t thank the Orioles enough for the job that they’ve done and continue to do.”
Rutschman was expected to be the Opening Day starter behind the plate prior to the triceps strain, which backed up his debut. Orioles manager Brandon Hyde, a former catcher himself, has given Rutschman time at catcher and designated hitter since he made his way to the majors.
Hyde has been guiding the Orioles through an arduous rebuild, and there is now light at the end of the tunnel. Still, he does not want to put too much pressure on Rustchman. He wants the catcher to relax and just play the game.
“It’s a 24-year-old kid that got to the big leagues and he’s extremely talented,” Hyde said. “Some guys come up and do well right away and some guys don’t and have great careers. I think the fans are going to embrace how he plays, how hard he plays, his personality, what kind of guy he is, and he’s going to be a good player.”
Hyde likes Rutschman’s presence behind the plate.
“He’s fully invested in the pitching, whoever’s on the mound. Like our other guys, it matters to him [to put] a zero up every inning,” Hyde said. “He’s going to try to grind and get guys through innings. And he’s obviously got tools, too, where he’s big, strong, can block, receives well, throws well.
“He’s also got the intangibles to be a winner behind the plate, and that’s something you can’t measure, but that’s something we’ve seen and that’s something we hear from other people who have had him.”
Rutschman has already endeared himself to his teammates. He takes time to talk with his pitcher on the field after each inning. Rustchman also enthusiastically cheers on his team from the dugout.
The future of the Orioles looks bright with their young catcher, and the players have noticed the new energy surrounding the team.
“I’ve seen so many times where guys are high prospects and they think they know everything before they get here,” veteran catcher Robinson Chirinos said. “You can be the best prospect in the game, but if you don’t do it in the big leagues, it doesn’t matter. Up here is where you have to show who you are. Being a catcher makes you take that ego out and understand you need to serve others and put others before you, so I think that helps him to be the player he is.”
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles