Last Friday, with more than a month remaining in the regular season, the Baltimore Orioles were eliminated from playoff contention. Coming into play on Tuesday, the Orioles were on pace for 109 losses and a minus-300 run differential. (The 2003 Detroit Tigers — a historically awful bunch — are currently the only team to top minus-300 in a season since the last wave of expansion.) The Orioles have earned those marks the hard way, by allowing the most home runs in major-league history, and generally checking all the boxes for futility.
This year hasn’t been kind to Baltimore. Last year wasn’t either, and next year isn’t likely to be much better. The Orioles remain in the early stages of a rebuild, one that extends into the front office and one that is likely to require another few seasons before yielding wins and losses at the major-league level. Yet Orioles fans have reason for renewed hope — at least to some extent — because this season did bring them Adley Rutschman, the No. 1 pick in June’s draft.
Rutschman, for the unaware, is a switch-hitting catcher who is the best prospect in the Orioles system. He was a standout at Oregon State University, where he hit .411/.575/.751 this season with 17 home runs and twice as many walks (76) as strikeouts (38). He’s already reached A-ball and it doesn’t seem too out of line to think he’ll be in Double- or Triple-A by this time next year, making a big-league arrival by summer 2021 realistic, if not outright probable.
From a scouting perspective, Rutschman projects to have four well-above-average tools, with his speed being the only one he lacks. At full maturation, Rutschman could hit for average and power while being an asset behind the plate with a good arm. Add in his other skills — he grades as a plus framer, per scouts and other teams’ internal metrics, and he has a mature approach at the dish — and there’s All-Star potential here; there’s face-of-the-franchise potential, too.
Of course, Rutschman isn’t the only prospect of note in Baltimore’s system. Right-hander Grayson Rodriguez has flourished this year after being the team’s top pick in the 2018 draft, and lefty DL Hall is intriguing. Professional hitter Ryan Mountcastle deserves a trial run in September, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone if someone like Adam Hall exceeds expectations.
Of them all, Rutschman feels like surest bet — and is perhaps the only player in the organization who seems likely to be on the next competitive O’s roster. Is that an overzealous proclamation for a player with just over 100 professional at-bats? Perhaps. But Rutschman is already one of the better position prospects in baseball, with both an enviable ceiling and floor.
The times aren’t great at Camden Yards, where the scores are often lopsided in favor of the opposition and the hometown team’s roster is stocked with forgettable transients. Mike Elias and his team of quants have a lot of work ahead of them before the Orioles play baseball in the cool October air again. Rutschman, however, is the prism through which Baltimore can envision a better tomorrow.
Whether it comes to pass is to be seen. But the old parlance is that you’re either selling wins or you’re selling hope. Rutschman, for now anyway, is Baltimore’s great hope.