So somebody told Sherwood High School baseball coach Jon Strohmaier several years ago that he should go watch this little kid play ball. “You’ve got to see this kid,” he was told.
Prep coaches get that kind of thing a lot, but Strohmaier, who has won a couple of state championships at the school and is considered one of the best at his craft in Oregon, decided he wanted a look at the youngster.
“It was the first time I saw him,” Strohmaier said. “He was about eight or nine years old. I think he drew a four-pitch walk. And then on the first pitch, he stole second. On the second pitch, he stole third. And then on the next pitch he came about halfway down the third-base line, the catcher threw to third and then he walked home.
“And that was my first Adley Rutschman impression.”
The professional baseball world is about to get its first impression of Rutschman very soon. For now, the switch-hitting Oregon State catcher whom the Baltimore Orioles took with the No.1 pick in the first-year player draft, is just trying to get a million things done so he can sign a contract with the Orioles and get on with a career that will likely start in the low minors.
“I’ve been involved in sports all my life and had multiple kids sign and play pro baseball but when it’s your own kid, it’s kind of overwhelming,” said Adley’s father, Randy, who has been a high school and college coach. “The texts and phone calls – and for Adley, it’s 10 times more.
“It’s been a whirlwind. And trying to manage everything. He’s going to be back in Omaha for the Dick Howser and the Golden Spikes (awards, for which he’s a finalist), that ceremony, and moving out of his house in Corvallis. So trying to figure out how to get school finished, sign a contract with Baltimore – and he has to move out of his house. The baseball part is probably the least overwhelming.”
Adley Rutschman is a switch-hitter who throws right-handed, writes left-handed, famously kicks a football with his left foot. And his father says he never encouraged the whole switch-hitting thing.
“First of all,” Randy said, “I can’t remember ever saying, 'Adley let’s go out and hit.' He was a self-generated type. If I ever have to have Tommy John surgery, it’s because of him. I have a bucket of balls sitting down here right now.
“When he got back from the (College World Series) I knew it would be just a matter of 12 hours before he’d want to go hit. I had the balls sitting there. Twelve hours and he was going to go hit.
“And if he happens to make his way up here this weekend, I know he’s going to say, let’s go out and hit.
“When he was young he would hit right-handed, but he’d turn around once in a while and hit left-handed and it was really a good-looking swing. The first time he hit left-handed in a game he was a third grader and he asked me if it would be OK to hit left-handed. And I said, ‘Heck yeah.’ He went out there and just about tore the pitcher’s head off with a line drive.
“Every year he would hit a couple of times left-handed. His freshman year in high school he hurt his elbow and it hurt to hit right-handed, so the whole freshman year he hit lefty. That really moved him out of his comfort zone. He became very comfortable hitting lefty. I don’t think he would have been a switch-hitter today if he wouldn’t have had that fracture in his elbow. It forced him to become comfortable left-handed.”
Strohmaier utilized Rutschman all over the diamond at Sherwood.
“He played JV his freshman year, we were pretty good,” said the high school coach. “He had some arm issues his sophomore year and I used him at third base. His junior year, if I remember correctly, he did a lot of DH-ing because his arm was bothering him.
“Towards the end of his junior year, he started throwing a little bit for us and we used him as a closer. His senior year he caught a lot. We kind of put him all over the place -- whatever was best for the team -- and we moved him up to leadoff hitter because we wanted him to get as many plate appearances as he could.”
To his everlasting credit, Strohmaier knew how much money Rutschman’s throwing arm might be worth someday and didn’t abuse it. And it’s turned out that one of the catcher’s biggest attributes is his throwing ability from behind the plate.
“I guess what I would consider my claim to fame with him is that I kind of babied his arm in high school,” Strohmaier said. “I realized there were bigger and better things to come and he had some arm issues in high school.”
That said, there was no way at that point that anyone would forecast the kid from Sherwood High going No. 1 in the draft.
“Not a clue,” Strohmaier said. “I knew during his junior year, especially when he got on the mound and was throwing 94, I knew I had a Division-1 kid, if that’s the route he wanted to go.
“I never expected he might be a No. 1 pick.”
His father credits Oregon State’s coaching staff and former head man Pat Casey with a lot of his son’s personal growth.
“When we sent him off to Oregon State, I really took my hands off Adley,” Randy Rutschman said. “I really had a lot of faith in that coaching staff. And we saw a lot of growth in just the first three months he was there. Adley really grew up in that program. He’s a better kid for having been there.”
Of course, the young man has pretty good genes, as everyone knows by now.
His father is known as a terrific coach with a special talent for working with catchers. His grandfather, Ad, was a coaching and playing legend in Oregon who won national championships coaching football and baseball at Linfield.
Adley is represented by Beverly Hills Sports Council, a firm that has repped the likes of Barry Bonds, Mike Piazza, Trevor Hoffman, Albert Pujols and many others and they will be negotiating from a position of strength on Rutschman’s first contract. The slot value of the top pick this season has been set at $8,415,300 – so Adley may not be driving that 2014 Honda much longer.
Very soon, the young Rutschman will embark on his professional career. Normally, catchers take longer to get to the big leagues, because of the nuances they must learn in regard to handling a pitching staff and taking the physical abuse of the position while trying to hold their offense together.
But Strohmaier doesn’t think it will be long before he can turn on the TV and watch his former star.
“I think he will be in the big leagues in a couple of years,” Strohmaier said. “He’s just that special. You don’t get that caliber of kid who can hit for average from both sides of the plate, hit for power, he’s got the strong arm, he’s got the defensive ability. I think, barring injury, he’s going to be able to work his way through the system rather quickly.
“I just hope it’s not too quickly. I hope they bring him along at a good pace so he’s successful at whatever level he is. I hope they won’t rush him – which I’m sure they won’t.”
Since he was that little kid Strohmaier watched stealing his way around the bases, he’s almost always been the best player on the field at whatever level he’s played. And now he’ll soon be faced with the same challenge.
But he’s had some pretty good preparation.