MLB Prospect Watch: Adley Rutschman Helps Rising Orioles And Lives Up To The Hype

Here’s a question that would have been foolish to ask in early July: Can Adley Rutschman top Julio Rodríguez for the American League Rookie of the Year Award?

At the time, Rutschman was a month into his top-class career and struggled with it. He left June with a .220/.287,407 hit with three home runs in 32 games. Rodríguez, on the other hand, had spent the entire season in the majors and had a .272/.333/.466 slash line with 13 homeruns in 77 games. No one doubted Rutschman’s future, but it seemed unlikely that he would break up a sweat on Rodríguez.

From that moment on? Rutschman has shown why CBS Sports named him the sport’s top candidate in the spring. He hit .284/.439/.451 with 13 extra-base hits and more walks (27) than strikeouts (20) in his last 32 games. He is one of the main drivers behind the rise of the Orioles. Rodríguez has also performed well by hitting for a .884 OPS, but injuries recently limited his availability, giving a Rutschman a chance to get closer – and remember, when it comes to prizes, it’s all about the counting stats.

There’s no easy way to judge the actual distance between the two players in the eyes of voters, but one way to measure this sort of thing is to account for the gap in their various Win Above Replacement stats. Rutschman is in fact 0.4 wins behind in both the Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs calculations; however, he stays back more than a win according to the Baseball-Reference framework. There is time to change those numbers, but it seems fair to write that Rodríguez remains safe as the current front-runner for the price.

None of this, of course, detracts from what Rutschman has been up to this summer, and it’s a testament to his recent tear that it’s even a topic worth considering. What’s more important than some hardware is that he has been and continues to prove his ability to serve as a well-rounded franchise-caliber backstop.

Rutschman has largely ticked those boxes lately. On the record he has shown a keen eye and a sense of contact, often of the line-drive type. Rutschman has struggled as a right-handed batter (his OPS from the left is .952, as opposed to .498 from the right), and his power numbers aren’t quite where you’d expect them to get his plus raw power. It should be noted that both aspects can be a byproduct of a small sample size: for example, he has had less than 100 plate appearances against leftists so far. It’s worth wondering, though, if Camden’s redesigned left field dimensions have anything to do with its relative power outage: its ISO on the road is 80 points higher than at home — again, in a small sample. Anyway, we’re not too concerned about those imperfections just yet.

Behind the plate, Rutschman leaves no doubt about his defense. He has always been considered a field general who can handle a pitching staff. His catch-and-throw skills have justified their hype. He ranks eighth in the majors in Framing Runs Added Above Average, which puts him company by the likes of Sean Murphy and Yasmani Grandal. Rutschman’s pop time to second base — meaning he needs the time to catch the ball, transfer it, and then throw it to the infielder mans the bag — is at the 88th percentile, according to Statcast. Most stolen bases are taken from the pitcher, not the catcher, and Rutschman seems more than capable of fulfilling his part of the bargain, provided his pitcher gives him a chance.

Put it all together, and it’s fair to think that this won’t be the last time Rutschman (or Rodríguez, for that matter) will compete for a prize.

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