There are No. 1 picks, and then there’s Adley Rutschman.
Not every player taken first overall in a draft is considered a no-doubter. On Wednesday, the Detroit Tigers are expected to take Arizona State’s Spencer Torkelson to kick off the draft, but draft analysts have indicated he’s not a lock even with the draft just a day away.
But for Rutschman, the hype was real. He was the presumptive No. 1 pick for months leading up to the 2019 draft, making it an easy decision for the Orioles with the top selection. And in the year since, he’s done nothing but reward Baltimore for taking him.
Over the last 10 years, only two No. 1 picks were consensus (among Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus and MLB Pipeline) top-five prospects within a year of being drafted: Bryce Harper and Adley Rutschman.
Harper was the most-hyped prospect of his generation, appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated at 16 and earning nicknames like, “the LeBron James of baseball” before he was old enough to buy a pack of cigarettes. Rutschman didn’t receive that caliber of attention, but his presence at the top of prospect rankings is evidence of how much potential he brings to Baltimore.
MLB Pipeline’s draft analyst Jim Callis joined NBC Sports Washington’s Nationals Talk podcast Monday and talked about the hype that surrounded Rutschman while playing for Oregon State.
“With Rutschman, I talked to a bunch of scouts [and asked] how does he stack up and my conclusion from talking with people was this is the best catching prospect of that period, the last 30+ years that I’ve been covering it,” Callis said.
Rutschman ultimately signed for an $8.1 million signing bonus to join the Orioles, a record for the largest bonus a draftee had ever received. He’s since played 37 games for three different levels of their minor-league system, rising up to Single-A by the end of last season.
“There was talk, ‘Oh there might be something going on with his shoulder’ and I think that was overblown and that was some negotiating [tactics] maybe,” Callis said. “But I remember talking to a scouting director who picked very high but was not going to get a chance at Rutschman last year and he said, ‘Look, let’s say there is something wrong with Adley Rutschman’s shoulder and he can only play first base. Then he’s Mark Teixeira.’
“So you’re talking about Mark Teixeira offensive upside and oh by the way, he might be a Gold Glove-type catcher. That’s pretty special. So I think all the hype was warranted, I think the draft-record $8.1 million bonus was warranted.”
The 2020 campaign was supposed to be Rutschman’s first full season at the professional level, giving the Orioles their first extended look at the prized catching prospect. Even with a minor-league system doubtful for this summer as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the team has to feel good about Rutschman’s progress.
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