The Royals are almost certainly getting an elite prospect out of the first round draft with the second overall pick. While many expect the Orioles to take Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman with the first overall pick, leaving the Royals to likely pick Texas high school infielder Bobby Witt, Jr., there is at least some doubt - albeit very little - that scenario may not unfold. According to Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel at Fangraphs in their latest mock draft:
We think there’s a chance that a combination of Baltimore’s assessment of Rutschman’s medical and potential bonus pool savings might ultimately lead the Orioles to take Texas high school SS Bobby Witt or (less likely) Cal 1B Andrew Vaughn, but that those chances are pretty slim.
Now, about 24 hours before the first pick is announced, there is some buzz that the Orioles will not be taking the switch-hitting backstop. High-level scouts from two different teams picking later in the first round were insistent that Baltimore is not planning on taking Rutschman.
Could it be posturing? Absolutely. But there is some noise that things are up in the air in the Orioles’ Draft room.
Dan Connolly of The Athletic also discusses the possibilty the Orioles may take someone other than Rutschman to go underslot. Orioles GM Mike Elias was with the Astros when they did something similar in 2012 when they signed Carlos Correa to a below slot deal to have more money to sign later picks Lance McCullers, Jr. and Rio Ruiz.
However, Elias dismisses that notion, saying “the spread between the bonuses that first year was a lot bigger than it was now. To have something sort of that dramatic happen again, I don’t know that we’ll see that again — and have it work out, on top of it. So, we’re gonna focus on taking who we think is the right pick, and we’ll kind of see how it all falls.” Connolly reports the Orioles are looking at Rutschman, Witt, Cal first baseman Andrew Vaughn, and Georgia high school infielder C.J. Abrams, but concludes the Orioles aren’t likely to go underslot with their pick, although he won’t say if it will be Rutschman or Witt.
Just in case there is a draft day surprise, what should we know about Adley Rutschman?
Rutschman hails from Sherwood, Oregon, just southwest of Portland. He was a catcher and a pitcher in high school, throwing in the low 90s. He was selected in the 40th round of the 2016 draft by his local Mariners, but elected to attend Oregon State, where he served as the placekicker for the football team his freshman year. He also appeared in 61 games for the baseball team that year, but it was his sophomore season where he burst onto the scene. He hit .408/.505/.628 with nine home runs and was the starting catcher for the National Champion Beavers. He was named College World Series Most Outstanding Player and set the record for most hits in the series with 17.
Rutschman did not rest on his laurels, instead leading the USA Collegiate National team in hitting that summer. For his junior season in 2019, he was named Pac-12 Player of the Year and is a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award for top collegiate player after hitting .411/.575/.751 with 17 home runs. He led the nation in walks with 76, tied for fourth-most in Pac-12 history.
He was such a feared hitter, he got the Barry Bonds treatment in the NCAA tournament.
Potential #1 pick in Monday's MLB Draft Adley Rutschman was just intentionally walked.— Cut4 (@Cut4) June 1, 2019
The bases were loaded. pic.twitter.com/lUSlDRYGLY
Rustchman’s Beavers were eliminated from the tournament on Saturday, almost certainly ending his collegiate career. Rutschman has been considered the top draft prospect for most of the year, drawing rave reviews as a switch-hitter with power from both sides of the plate. He sets up with an open stance and a low crouch but uses a leg kick to put himself in position, closing his stance a bit and generating good power with good loft to his swing. As Nick Cicere writes for Camden Chat:
As the leg kick reaches its peak, his hands are working down, and then back up. At the initiating of his actions, Rutschman’s weight is back, his head never moves off of the center line, his hips fire, and this pitch, an inside fastball, is greeted with a perfect swing. His hands work tight to his body, and the bat head works short through the zone and long to the baseball. You couldn’t script it any better.
Baseball America reports his righthanded stroke is “just a bit shorter than his swing from the left side” and projects him “as a future .300 hitter.” MLB Pipeline writes that he had been more of a “gap-to-gap doubles hitter, but the over-the-fence power started to show up more during his junior season.”
Standing at 6’2’’ and 215 pounds, Rutschman also draws rave reviews for a patient eye, drawing more walks than strikeouts. Nick Faleris at 2080 Baseball writes he has a ”simple, balanced set-up with quick hands, an advanced approach and excellent feel for the barrel, regularly squaring up the ball.”
Rutschman is not only talented at the plate, but behind it as well. He was named Pac-12 co-Defensive Player of the Year. He has a strong arm with a quick exchange and teams rarely run on him. His pop time would rank him among the top catchers in the big leagues. Faleris writes he has “soft, strong hands that allow him to excel at presentation” and Baseball America reports he has the “tools to be a plus defender.” The Oregon State coaching staff even allows him to call pitches at times, a rarity at the collegiate level.
Like most catchers, Rutschman is a below-average runner, but MLB Pipeline writes he’s a “better runner than some give him credit for.”
Rutschman draws a lot of comparisons to Matt Wieters, another top college catcher who was selected by the Orioles, while others have compared him to Buster Posey. The fact is a Rutschman is a catcher could give a team pause considering the injury risk of sticking behind the plate, and the track record of catchers selected near the top of the draft is mixed with Posey, Wieters, and Joe Mauer offset by guys like Jeff Clement, Tony Sanchez, and Kyle Skipworth.
Back in March, Kiley McDaniel wrote that Rutschman would be a top 20 MLB prospect and nothing Rustchman did this season should dissuade him of that opinion. There may be some debate as to whether Rutschman is a generational draft pick, but he has a very high floor with a very good chance to be an elite-level player at a premium position.