Orioles' top prospect Adley Rutschman promoted, now just one step away from majors

NATHAN RUIZ
The Baltimore Sun (TNS)
Baltimore Orioles catcher Adley Rutschman is shown during spring training baseball camp Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020, in Sarasota, Fla. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Adley Rutschman is one promotion away from Camden Yards.

The Orioles are promoting their top prospect to Triple-A Norfolk, a source with direct knowledge confirmed Sunday. Rutschman, a catcher the Orioles took first overall in the 2019 draft, recently became the top prospect in all of baseball in MLB Pipeline’s rankings with the graduation of Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Wander Franco.

In his first full season of professional baseball, Rutschman, 23, thrived with Double-A Bowie, batting .271/.392/.508 with 18 home runs and nearly as many walks and strikeouts in 80 games. Among the Orioles’ top prospects who have been healthy all season, Rutschman was a rarity in spending his season with one affiliate, but this promotion leaves him one more away from joining the Orioles.

It’s doubtful it comes this season, however, with the Orioles mired in a losing season and unlikely to start Rutschman’s service time clock sooner than they would need to. Spending the next couple of months with Norfolk will be beneficial to Rutschman, who like all minor leaguers lost a season of development because of the coronavirus pandemic. He was a participant at the Orioles’ alternate training site and fall instructional camp and was among the top performers at each.

Still, the Orioles deliberately handled his development track, believing he was benefiting from his time at Bowie.

“He’s certainly had a very successful season thus far in Double-A on both sides of ball,” executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said late last month. “It’s been great to see. I don’t think he would tell you that he is, but he’s not a fully finished product or polished player. All these kids missed a whole year last year. His control of the strike zone has been outstanding, but he’s doing a lot of work with Ryan Fuller, our hitting coach, and Jeff Kunkel, our catching coach there, and just every day, getting better and perfecting things about his swing and his consistency, his mechanics and his approach. He’s also working with the pitching staff there, and they’ve got a really good thing going on, so we do not feel like he’s wasting his time or not getting anything out of Bowie despite the success that he’s had thus far.

“It’s certainly something that we’re talking about organizationally and something we want to get right.”

In leaving Bowie, Rutschman will no longer share a battery with Grayson Rodriguez, the right-hander the Orioles selected in the first round the year before Rutschman who ranks as their No. 2 prospect and baseball’s top pitching prospect according to Baseball America. But he’ll get the chance to work with a crop of pitchers on the doorstep of assisting the major league team, including top 15 prospects Kyle Bradish and Kevin Smith, as well as Dean Kremer, who opened the year in Baltimore’s rotation but struggled with his command.

With the Tides being part of the “Triple-A Final Stretch,” Norfolk’s season extends into the first week of October, meaning Rutschman will get about two months of Triple-A experience this year before attempting to earn a spot on the Orioles’ Opening Day roster come spring training.