Major League Baseball

Adley Rutschman bringing new life to Orioles' fan base, franchise

May 26

By Jake Mintz
FOX Sports MLB Writer

NEW YORK — Adley Rutschman had somewhere to be.

The Orioles' rookie catcher placed his headset on the warning track dirt and ambled down the steps of the Yankee Stadium visiting dugout. He’d just finished an interview on Ballpark Cam with MLB Network and had to zip back into the clubhouse for the pitchers' meeting at 4:25 p.m. After that, he’d join the hitters' meeting until batting practice started at 5 p.m. Then, another sitdown interview at 5:45 p.m. before some last-minute pregame prep.

Just another hectic few hours in the life of baseball’s most hyped prospect.

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Even when he has somewhere to be, Rutschman is a slow walker, his feet barely lifting off the ground as he carries his massive, 6-foot-2, 235-pound frame from place to place. When you see him in person, his build is the first thing you notice. Rutschman has a chest like a chest of drawers. He’s built more like a shipping container than a human being. More wide than simply enormous, Rutschman’s shoulders stretch on for eternity.

Atop that sturdy frame rests the hopes of an organization that, for the past five years, has been trapped beneath an avalanche of losses — 35 more over that span than any other team in baseball. Billed by every prospect expert under the sun as The Next Great Catcher™, Rutschman swings it beautifully from both sides of the dish with plus power and hitting ability, and he is an immensely talented defender at the sport’s most demanding position.

But with great talent comes even greater hype, hype that was on display all week, from Rutschman’s highly anticipated debut last Saturday at Camden Yards to the throngs of national media (myself included) eyeballing his every move this week at Yankee Stadium. Injured Orioles ace John Means noted that no top prospect since Bryce Harper had received this level of fanfare upon arriving in the big leagues. 

"It was amazing, man," Means told FOX Sports, speaking about Rutschman’s home debut. "He could have struck out five times, and they would have given him a standing ovation." 

No player will ever match the supersonic levels of hype that surrounded Harper’s ascension as a teenager, but Rutschman is one of few players in the same hemisphere. The comparisons are weighty yet understandable. Both were No. 1 overall picks, both were considered among the top prospects in the minors at the time of their debuts, and both were tasked with dragging a floundering franchise into relevance.

But while Harper was reckless and rambunctious on the field as a Washington National — and unapologetically brash off it — Rutschman provides a much more measured presence. He is more considered and more considerate. Fair or not, Harper rubbed a great number of people the wrong way as a youngster; Rutschman has had no such impact. 

In fact, he’s done the opposite.

"He's been great," Orioles first baseman Ryan Mountcastle said. "You hear stories about some top guys who come up and think they’re the next big thing, they think they’re hot s---. Adley’s been the opposite. He's gotten way more attention than any of the guys on this team have ever had to deal with, and he’s done great with it.

"I met his mom the other day, and she was like, ‘Oh, Ryan, you probably had a similar type of situation as Adley being a top prospect and all.’ I was like, ‘Haha yeah, maybe a little bit, but absolutely nothing close to what your son is dealing with.’"

It would be understandable, reasonable even, for a heralded player such as Rutschman to have a big head, ooze entitlement and carry himself like ... well ... hot s---. Since his teenage years, he has been told by anybody close enough to share their opinion that he is the greatest baseball player they’ve ever seen. Too much adoration at too young an age can turn an ego unsavory, impenetrable. 

But for Rutschman, that has never been the case.

Jon Strohmaier was the head baseball coach at Sherwood High School in Oregon for 24 years. He built a great program, capturing state championships in 2011 and 2013, helping a handful of players go Division I and sending handfuls more to smaller Division III and NAIA schools. But he never had anyone "like Adley."

"He’s the best player I’ve ever had. Best player I’ve ever seen, but I care more about who he is as a person," Strohmaier told FOX Sports. "He always responds to my texts. It might be a day later or two days later, but he always gets back to me. I know that with all he’s accomplished, he must get a ton of congratulations. It means a lot that he takes the time."

Last Saturday morning, Strohmaier woke up and checked his phone to find a text from Adley. A text he’ll never forget. Two simple words: "It’s time."

"That was pretty cool," Strohmaier said.

Strohmaier still recalls the day 15 years ago when he saw Rutschman play for the first time. Somebody had mentioned to him that there was an incredible 9-year-old laying waste to the competition in the local Little League. So Strohmaier drove over to the fields behind Hawks View Elementary in Sherwood to see what all the hoopla was about. In his first at-bat, Rutschman singled. On the next pitch, he stole second. On the following pitch, he stole third, and on the third pitch, he went halfway down the third-base line to draw a throw before dashing home to score.

"I was like, ‘That kid can really play,’" Strohmaier remembered.

And even when Rutschman matriculated to Sherwood High and started developing a reputation for awe-inspiring athletic achievements, Strohmaier says Adley never lost his youthful exuberance. He was kind throughout, never turning sour or big-headed, striving to be a good teammate and good person at every turn.

"It’s all his mom and dad," Strohmaier said. "They did a great job raising him."

That childlike energy is still part of Rutschman’s game. After each completed inning, he meets his pitcher on the infield grass between the mound and the dugout to either offer vocal encouragement or provide immediate feedback. It’s the type of thing you’d usually see a Little Leaguer do, yet Rutschman has continued his ritual through high school, college, the minors and now into the majors. 

Many vocal leaders in baseball, particularly young ones, struggle to exude enthusiasm without coming across as corny. But Rutschman seems to break that mold, nailing the balance between suave and passionate. Even during the most eventful and overwhelming week of his young life, Rutschman gave off a sense of calm, taking in the scenes as he leisurely strolled to and from his laundry list of pregame obligations.

And while his first handful of games in the majors hasn't been statistically eye-popping, the 24-year-old with the boyish face and the expectations of a franchise on his broad shoulders has managed to leave an impression about what type of player he could become — and what type of person he already is.

Jake Mintz is the louder half of @CespedesBBQ and a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He’s an Orioles fan living in New York City, and thus, he leads a lonely existence most Octobers. If he’s not watching baseball, he’s almost certainly riding his bike. You can follow him on Twitter @Jake_Mintz.

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