Baltimore Orioles’ top draft pick Adley Rutschman’s first professional season, which spanned three minor league levels in barely two months, ended Friday as he collected both of Low-A Delmarva’s two hits in a 1-0, 10-inning loss to Hickory in the first round of the South Atlantic League playoffs.
It ended a learning experience for the team’s top prospect and freshly minted avatar for the future. But it also solidified something that the catcher’s time in the Gulf Coast League, at Short-A Aberdeen and with the Shorebirds revealed to him and the rest of the team’s farmhands as they go home and prepare for 2020: the rebuild seems to be going in the right direction.
“It really started out when I signed. I went to Camden Yards, got to meet the GM [Mike] Elias, and just really hear what he was about, and kind of how he first saw the rebuild going,” Rutschman said. “Then, got to go down to Florida, got to be with some of the coaches around there. [GCL Orioles manager Alan] Mills was the guy running the show down there, just a high-energy guy. They started down there, and they had something like 13 wins the season before and they blew out that entire league, just had a turnaround season.
“Then, I get to go to Aberdeen. They were setting league records up there, team records for themselves. And I think just building on that and coming to a place like this where you have a 90-win season, you start to see a trend.”
Rutschman, who won every individual honor available to a college player this year at Oregon State after winning the College World Series with the Beavers in 2018, has an idea of what a winning collection of players looks like. His three stops gave him an up-close look at what the Orioles have in the lower levels of their farm system, from a GCL team that went a league-best 38-15 to an Aberdeen club that missed out on the playoffs by a game and the Delmarva team that had the best record in the minors.
“For me, if you build that winning mentality, that winning attitude, it’s hard for me to bring a bunch of people who don’t know how to win together and tell them to go win,” Rutschman said. “You’ve got to have the wins and that experience of how to win to just transfer it on and on. We’ve got a bunch of guys here who know how to win, they know how to be in the clutch, and I think that’s going to go a long way.”
While he was part of three teams, there was plenty of focus on Rutschman’s personal performance. He hit .254/.351/.423 with 13 extra-base hits over three levels and had three hits in eight at-bats in two Delmarva playoff games while throwing out eight of 12 attempted base stealers.
“Learned a lot, and got a sense of pro ball was all about,” he said. “I was able to make some adjustments, and change levels a couple times. I think just being put in those uncomfortable situations, being able to catch a lot of different guys on the mound, and just get a sense of what each guy does, I think for me, that’s going to help just moving forward.
"I’m looking forward to next season and hopefully being able to build on some of the stuff I learned now in the offseason. I think it was very beneficial for me.”
Rutschman’s own personal experience in the organization was enriched by his time in Delmarva, he said. When he first got promoted Aug. 21, he said manager Kyle Moore sat him down to explain “the competitiveness and process-oriented mindset that they came to the field with every day" and how that basically led them to the season that they had before, culminating in 90 wins and the historical 2019 campaign.
“It’s almost contagious,” Rutschman said. “You come in here and you have to have that energy, or you kind of just sink to the bottom.”
Moore gave that message to Rutschman in late-August as the catcher was preparing to join a Shorebirds team with championship aspirations. But the mentality Rutschman saw in Delmarva and across the Orioles farm system was evident all year long, according to Moore, who reminded his players after a tough loss Friday that that mindset was all he asked for since the first day they got to Perdue Stadium.
“I just told them to remember in this young stage of their career, that we sort of had our first team meeting and I talked to these guys for the first time — and a lot of those guys were in there — I said, ‘This thing is not going to be built on whether or not we’re going to go out there and win games or not,' " Moore said. " 'This thing is going to be built on, when you come in the door, if you’re going to get better today before you leave.’ I think that was our foundation. That’s what we did.
"Every single player that walked through that door, we wanted to make him better today before they left. Then, what happened was a lot of guys got better once guys started focusing on the right things, as opposed to just the results and coming in here chasing hits, and chasing strikeouts, and chasing different things. All of a sudden, you look up and we had a great record, and guys were getting better, and all of a sudden people started really developing. I just wanted to remind them of that.”