2019 MLB Draft: Orioles could play No. 1 draft pick Adley Rutschman at positions other than catcher
Rutschman is a catcher and a very good one, but the O's may try him elsewhere
Earlier this week,. It is the second time the O's held the No. 1 pick; they selected righty Ben McDonald with the top pick back in 1989.
Rutschman is arguably the best draft prospect since Bryce Harper in 2010 and he is undoubtedly the best catching prospect to come along since Buster Posey in 2008. He's a switch-hitter with power, and he's a very advanced receiver. Rutschman is the total package. Here are his numbers this spring:
The Orioles have not yet signed Rutschman, though that is not a red flag. It's only been a few days, and the No. 1 pick in a draft will often drag things out to get every last bonus dollar possible. GM Mike Elias told MLB.com's Joe Trezza he expects Rutschman to sign and is not "anticipating a lot of trouble there." The draft signing deadline is Friday, July 12.
That's not the most interesting thing Elias told Trezza, however. Elias indicated the Orioles could play Rutschman at positions other than catcher when he makes his pro debut later this summer. Here's what the GM said:
"I'm going to have to sit down and talk to him and see how he wants to approach this summer," Elias said. "For us, from a developmental standpoint, the at-bats are going to be more important. His receiving is so polished that I don't see us doing a lot of work on that. By the end of the year, it became so apparent to us that this was a really special bat, a really special hitter. If he meets expectations offensively, it may be a discussion of how to pace him from a physical standpoint."
Rutschman is regarded as a very good athlete and an instinctive ballplayer, and there's some thought that should catching not work out, he has the tools to play a solid third base or right field. Of course, he would have the most value behind the plate, the toughest position to fill. Rutschman is widely regarded as having the tools to be an above-average MLB catcher.
The whole "best draft prospect since Bryce Harper" thing is apt because Harper was a catcher as an amateur as well. He caught all throughout high school and during his one year in junior college. The Nationals selected Harper with the No. 1 pick in 2010 and immediately moved him to the outfield because his bat was so far ahead of his glove. Catchers can take a while to develop defensively, and they didn't want to hold Harper back. The bat was too special.
Rutschman is not the precocious hitter Harper was at that age, but he is a very good hitter, and likely would have been a top-five draft pick this year even as a first baseman. Should he take well to, say, third base this summer, it might be worth pursuing going forward. That would help Rutschman get to the big leagues sooner and allow the Orioles to hasten their rebuild.
Also, keep in the mind the O's already have a promising young catcher at the MLB level. Chance Sisco was called up recently after hitting .289/.383/.530 with 10 home runs in 44 Triple-A games. He is 2 for 10 in three MLB games thus far, though Sisco did hit a home run Friday night, and he is expected to be The Man behind the plate the rest of the season in Baltimore.
Sisco will play the entire season at age 24 and he appeared on top-100 prospect lists in 2017 and 2018. This isn't some fringe catching prospect. Sisco is highly regarded and it is entirely possible the best Orioles team long-term has Sisco at catcher and Rutschman at, say, third base or right field. Where all the pieces fit is something to worry about later. The scenario exists though.
First things first: Rutschman has to sign and begin his pro career. The No. 1 pick is slotted for a little more than $8.4 million this year and Rutschman will sign for something close to that. (No top pick has received full slot value since the bonus pool system was put in place in 2012.) Once that happens, he and the Orioles can sit down and figure out where he'll play long-term, and it's not out of the question it'll be somewhere other than catcher.
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