Catcher Adley Rutschman’s major league debut is now a step closer, with the Orioles’ top prospect reporting to High-A Aberdeen to complete a rehab assignment this week.
Rutschman missed a place on the Opening Day roster when he was sidelined with a right tricep strain as major league spring training began. But the 24-year-old has steadily progressed from the injury over the past month following a multiweek shutdown from baseball activities. Manager Brandon Hyde said April 13 that Rutschman had begun to take batting practice.
A rehab assignment this week with the IronBirds is another positive development, a return to competitive baseball that signals a potential call-up could be on the horizon. Earlier this month, general manager Mike Elias hinted at Rutschman receiving a major league opportunity once healthy.
“As soon as he kind of returns to being a full-activity version of himself and we understand that his timing’s back, I think he’s gonna pick right back up where he left off, which was with a very clear shot to impact this team,” Elias said April 7.
Rutschman, the top overall pick of the 2019 MLB draft, has backed up that lofty selection in the minors so far. Last year, the Oregon State alumnus hit .285/.397/.502 across Double-A and Triple-A. In his 43 games for Triple-A Norfolk, Rutschman’s batting average jumped to .312.
His right tricep strain during spring training happened at the “exact worst moment possible,” Elias said, and kept Rutschman from training with big leaguers. There was a chance that Rutschman proved during spring training he was worthy of being the Orioles’ starting catcher, but the injury prevented him from being ready for the season opener.
The setback cost Rutschman at least two weeks of major league service time, which could offer Baltimore another year of team control before he hits free agency. The new collective bargaining agreement that the league and players union agreed to this offseason does offer Rutschman a chance to receive a full year of service time if he finishes in the top two of American League Rookie the Year voting.
Before Rutschman arrives in Baltimore, he’ll likely spend time at Triple-A Norfolk again, ensuring his swing timing is there before he arrives in the majors.
In addition to Rutschman, right-hander Rico Garcia will join Aberdeen on a rehab assignment. And left-hander DL Hall also will report to the IronBirds, as he continues his development from last season’s stress reaction in his left elbow.
Hall, whom Baseball America ranks as the No. 3 prospect in the Orioles’ pipeline, could find his way to the majors this season, as well. The 23-year-old pitched 31 2/3 innings for Double-A Bowie last year before his season was shut down, but he appeared in spring training and threw 100-mph fastballs. He remained in Florida for extended spring training time with Baltimore monitoring his health closely.