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Orioles prospects hoping to bring ‘dominant attitude’ to Baltimore in near future

NATHAN RUIZ
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)

As much as the Baltimore Orioles’ rebuild coming to fruition will be about the young players they’ve spent the past several years adding to their farm system finally reaching the major leagues, the energy that arrives with them will be just as important.

Take last season at Double-A Bowie, where seven of the club’s top nine prospects per Baseball America spent time. As the Orioles began a march toward their third straight full season of at least 108 losses, the Baysox won 21 of their first 26 games, eventually reaching the division finals.

“Every time we stepped on the field, it didn’t feel like we could lose,” said second baseman-outfielder Terrin Vavra, Baltimore’s No. 14 prospect.

“I think that’s going to trickle in, now that that group is going to be in maybe Triple-A, some starting to get into the big leagues. Eventually, most of that team’s going to be up in Baltimore, and I think you’re just going to have that same sort of dominant attitude.”

That would be most welcome at Camden Yards, where the Orioles’ path to contention depends on a group of prospects headlined by catcher Adley Rutschman and pitchers Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall getting there and living up to their potential.

Grayson Rodriguez, the Baltimore Orioles' 2018 first round draft pick, stands on the field during a baseball game between the Orioles and the Boston Red Sox, Tuesday, June 12, 2018, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

A turn toward competitiveness: All three of those players, plus Vavra, outfielder Kyle Stowers, right-hander Kyle Bradish and others, should reach the major leagues at some point in 2022. The wave might not immediately translate into wins, but their collective presence will signal a turn toward competitiveness for an organization with five straight losing seasons.

Some pieces the Orioles hope are part of their future have already reached and performed well in the majors, such as left-hander John Means, first baseman Ryan Mountcastle and outfielders Cedric Mullins and Austin Hays. The next step is adding more future fixtures around them from a group of prospects that has spent the past couple of years bonding during minor league camps and games.

“They like each other, they’re unbelievably competitive with each other and how they go about their day,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. “They’re gonna win together.

“Even though we struggled as a club, you start seeing young guys putting up good years and the more guys we can have like that, the more wins we’re gonna get.”

The face of the rebuild: Rutschman, regarded by some publications as baseball’s top prospect, has been the face of this rebuild since Baltimore selected him with the first overall pick of the 2019 draft. But he recognizes it won’t be his responsibility alone to shift the tide for the Orioles.

“We have the ability to root for one another,” he said. “I think in a system of the minor leagues, where it’s pretty cutthroat and guys are trying to get to the next level, it’s extremely cool to see you have that team aspect.”

Other prospects echoed the sentiment.

“I’m just so impressed by just how people pull for each other,” said Stowers, ranked seventh in the organization. “I think you hear so often in minor league baseball that it’s individual and obviously, to an extent, everyone is taking care of their own career and doing the best they can. But at the same time, we have a bunch of guys who don’t have egos and are kind of pulling for you and wanting to help you get better, and I think that just creates such a fun environment to be around.

“I think the best teams have guys that pull for each other, so I’m really excited to see how you know this group continues to just grow together and learn as much as we can.”

Getting a taste of major league camp: Rutschman and Stowers were nonroster invitees who survived the initial rounds of cuts at major league spring training, demonstrating how valuable the organization felt the time in that environment was for them. They sprinkled in time for other prospects, as well, frequently calling up top young players from their minor league camp. In one late March exhibition, seven of Baltimore’s top 10 prospects were on the day’s travel roster for a game against the Philadelphia Phillies. Simply being around one another gives those players an impression of a bright future.

“There’s so much talent at every spot,” said infielder Jordan Westburg, Baltimore’s No. 6 prospect. “It’s something to be excited about. It’s something to look forward to every time you get to the field. You just get to pick different people’s brains. You get to compete against different guys every day. It’s just special. That’s the best way I can put it. It’s exciting for not only us, but should be exciting for the fan base, as well.”

The arrivals will come soon: With a right tricep strain spoiling Rutschman’s chances of making the Opening Day roster, none of Baltimore’s most highly prized prospects will be with them as the 2022 season begins. But they will come soon, in the meantime littering the upper minors and making the future feel closer than it has at any point in the Orioles’ rebuild.

“We’re definitely on the rise,” Bradish said. “With the young guys coming up to complement the older guys that have been playing with the Orioles for the past couple years, I think it’s a great combination of young and older talent. I think we’re close.”