Yesterday, Adley Rutschman made his 2021 Spring Training debut. The question on the mind of all Orioles fans is, when will he debut in Baltimore? 2020 was a tough year for a lot of people but, in the baseball world, 2020 really hurt the development and promotions of young minor league players. Sure, some of them were able to play and develop in their organization’s camps and that has some value to it but obviously not as much value as real game action would’ve had.
This year, the minor leagues have announced that they will not begin play until early May. In the meantime, the players will have more extended spring training and allow themselves to get ready for the season. This is a potential issue in terms of promotion to the big leagues for some players. While they will still get in a full minor league season, the season starting a month later could cause teams to game service time even more and leave these guys down until the beginning of next year. There will be exceptions to this rule and I believe Rutschman will be one of them.
The former #1 overall pick has not played above low-A ball yet in his pro career. There are some out there with the mentality that he has to play at a high level, perhaps even a dominant level, in AA and AAA before he gets the call to Baltimore.
Personally, I find that thinking to be incredibly flawed. Many will point to how slow Mike Elias has been with promoting. I think people’s perception of that is wrong. I think he is simply trying to make sure the core is up at relatively the same time. We saw a few guys come up in 2020 and we will see a lot more in 2021. At some point, I assume the Orioles envision themselves contending and I believe that the year they expect to start to be competitive is 2022. Rutschman will hopefully be a major part of that and I think that is why you get him in Baltimore this year. I think it is important for him to get his feet wet in 2021 and really know what to expect in 2022.
As long as you call him up after mid-April, you will have gained the extra service time. If you call him up after early-to-mid-June, you will avoid super two status. I am of the opinion that you game the system for the extra year, but there is no need to leave someone down to avoid super two. That being said, I also wouldn’t expect Rutschman to be brought up to Baltimore within 4-6 weeks of his first minor league game of 2021, so I think he will avoid super two status by default.
By the time the All-Star break rolls around, Rutschman should have 150-200 at bats at AA under his belt. That is obviously a small sample but it’s not nothing either.
Yes, it’s less than a lot of his peers saw before their calls up to the majors but his peers also didn’t have to deal with a pandemic and even many of his peers (and I am defining his peers in this case as advance college bats drafted high) didn’t receive much more than 500-800 at bats before they saw their first big league action.
Rutschman will have about half that amount if the time period of mid-July or so holds up. This is a player who was an advanced college hitter, playing in one of the best conferences in the country. He played professionally in 2019 and, by all reports, was very good in camp at Bowie in 2020. He is 23 years old and while that’s not old, he isn’t exactly a super young prospect either.
In other words, it’s time to get him up here. Plus, let’s face it: he is a catcher and you only have so many years to take advantage of the value of a top catcher, so why waste it in the minors? If he is as good as they say he is, he doesn’t need much time in the minors, if he even needs any at all.
I think you could argue that he is the team’s best catcher right now but I get the idea of giving him some at bats against upper-level minor league pitching and getting comfortable.I do not believe this is a situation where he must have a 900+ OPS or something like that to get the call. As long as he isn’t embarrassing himself and is healthy, get him up here. There is no such thing as rushing a prospect of his age, pedigree and skill set and that is a mindset I think many fans and organizations need to get out of. If it wasn’t for the service time rules, I think we would see a lot more players up a lot faster. It’s just that people have gotten used to how these teams treat the players and feel that it must be the right thing to do.
The other argument I will hear from people about this is that the O’s aren’t winning anything this year, so why bring him up? Why spend the service time?
To me, that is another flawed argument. You bring him up because he is ready to be here. You bring him up to learn.
Again, 2022 should be a season where we see this team take great strides. To do that, we will need to start seeing more young players in 2021. We will need to show potential free agents that it is worth coming here. We will need to start figuring out which of these young players we keep and which ones we trade. You don’t only evaluate guys in years you think you will be good. The minor leagues aren’t the only place a player can develop.
I am looking forward to the 2021 season for many reasons but the promotion of Adley Rutschman to the majors is arguably the #1 reason.
Of course, it is possible that it doesn’t happen for various reasons but if he is the talent they say he is and he is healthy, I just see no way Elias keeps him down all year.