Wander Franco. Adley Rutschman.
That’s it, that’s the list. No matter where you look, those are the two.
And it makes sense, right? He’s a premium talent playing a premium position; the 23-year-old was the first overall pick in the 2019 MLB Draft by the Baltimore Orioles, taken after hitting over .400 in back-to-back seasons for Oregon State while also impressing heavily behind the plate as a catcher.
Finding a complete player — or at the very least, one close to it — at catcher is nearly impossible these days. It seems there’s always some sort of trade off, where a backstop with a bat is often inept as a receiver, or, far more often, a more defensive-minded catcher is able to hold on to a job for a while despite a sub-standard batting average.
Rutschman is that complete player, labeled a “generational talent” by Baseball America and “one of the most exciting minor leaguers in all of baseball.”
So, it was perhaps a bit jarring at first to hear from Bowie Baysox manager Buck Britton — yes, he’s the brother of Yankees reliever Zack Britton — during a Zoom session with local, national and Northeast League media members that his prized prospect would, on occasion, be seeing some time in a spot other than the one he’s best known for.
“He’s obviously going to catch,” Britton said. “But I think we’re going to get him some reps at first base as well.”
Rutschman hasn’t played first base since his college days — he played 36 games there over his three NCAA seasons — but is eager to get back out there at that spot, especially if it keeps his bat in the lineup.
“It’s a different thing that provides its own unique challenges, but it’s also an opportunity to get more AB’s, get more experience and diversify what I’m able to do on the baseball field,” Rutschman said.
“It provides a good opportunity this year, and I’m excited for all of it. Every part.”
Long-term, however, Rutschman’s future will be at catcher. Britton enjoyed a lengthy professional career himself, and when asked if Rutschman reminded him of anyone he played with or against, threw out a lofty comparison that Orioles fans will certainly find to be high praise.
“The easy comparison, a little bit, is Matt Wieters,” said Britton, referring to the four-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove Award winner who was the fifth overall pick by the Orioles back in 2007.
“I think Matt had a different body type than he did, Adley is a little more athletic behind the plate. But, a switch hitter with power. I think he’s got a chance to stay healthy too, with the way he’s built. He’s a big, athletic kid. He’s really super athletic. I saw a lot of Matt Wieters, and Matt had a pretty good career for the Orioles. I think this kid has a chance to be special.”
Truthfully, it would be borderline shocking if Rutschman was still with the Baysox by the time of their first meeting with Somerset this season, a six-game stay at TD Bank Ballpark that’s slated to begin on August 3.
It would be a shame to miss out on seeing him, something Britton certainly doesn’t have to worry about once the season gets started on Tuesday.
“I saw him in spring training, I saw him at the alternate site, I saw him in major league spring training,” Britton said. “A lot of times, you can’t tell what a guy is going to be until the lights go on, when he’s consistently facing people in a different uniform. I know the God-given ability that he has, and just to see him take it up a notch — and I fully expect he will when those lights go on — it’s going to be exciting, and I plan on sitting back and enjoying the show.”