A switch-hitting catcher with a tricky last name to spell and already used to wearing orange and black.
The Matt Wieters comparisons were made long before the Orioles officially made Oregon State’s Adley Rutschman the first overall pick of the 2019 amateur draft and the first selection of the Mike Elias era Monday. Wieters didn’t live up to the immense expectations — remember MattWietersFacts.com? — as the fifth overall pick of the 2007 draft despite still being a four-time All-Star selection and a two-time Gold Glove winner, but Rutschman being the consensus top pick throughout the pre-draft process and only the sixth catcher ever to be taken first overall speaks to how special the baseball world believes him to be with some going as far as calling him the best draft prospect since Bryce Harper nine years ago.
Not even Wieters’ legend at Georgia Tech included being walked with the bases loaded in an NCAA tournament game like Rutschman was last week. He was also the Most Outstanding Player of last year’s College World Series, giving him an advanced winning pedigree with a national championship under his belt.
Just days after acknowledging the risks of overthinking the No. 1 pick, Elias came to the same conclusion as the many pundits that Rutschman projects as a franchise catcher, an entity so rare in today’s game that it’s become devalued by some. And considering Houston selected a catcher no earlier than the third round in Elias’ tenure helping run its drafts from 2012-18, you can’t accuse the Baltimore executive of overvaluing the position. It’s worth noting, however, that Elias began his scouting career in St. Louis where Yadier Molina has anchored the Cardinals for 15 years and been a major part of two World Series titles and an additional National League championship.
In other words, he’s seen how special a catcher able to impact both sides of the ball can be and believes the 21-year-old Rutschman will be that caliber of player.
“He’s a team leader on and off the field,” said Elias in a statement. “He’s everything you want and he plays a premium defensive position with athleticism that gives him versatility to play elsewhere, as needed. Adley is a future fixture for this organization.
“The amount of work that goes into what he’s done and becoming the No. 1 pick is not something that’s ordinary. I met Adley this winter and was immediately struck by him and impressed by his maturity and leadership.”
Of course, there are no guarantees, especially at a position where careers are historically shorter than at other defensive spots. Perhaps time will prove Bobby Witt Jr. as the better long-term investment, but you must mention misses like Tim Beckham and Matt Bush if you’re going to cite Carlos Correa, Alex Rodriguez, and Chipper Jones as lucrative successes in support of drafting a high school shortstop first overall.
Some have argued Rutschman will develop too rapidly for the rebuilding Orioles to take full advantage of his prime catching years, but the value of having an already-established above-average defensive catcher nurturing young pitchers in the coming years shouldn’t be diminished. A rebuilding team doesn’t just go from really bad to really good overnight, so an asset like Rutschman could aid in the acclimation of young arms to the majors.
“They always talk about how he’s so good at hitting, but I don’t think they understand how good he is behind the plate dealing with pitchers, blocking balls, and throwing guys out,” Orioles infield prospect and former Oregon State teammate Cadyn Grenier said. “Just about everything you could want from a catcher, he does it phenomenally. He’s an amazing teammate. He’s a really hard worker, he’s a lot of fun to be around, he’s really easy to like.”
If Rutschman approaches the territory of Joe Mauer, the last catcher drafted first overall in 2001, Elias and the Orioles will obviously be thrilled, even if he too moves to first base eventually. If the first decade of Rutschman’s career resembles former NL Most Valuable Player and three-time World Series champion Buster Posey, the pick will be a wild success no matter what happens after that.
Even if Rutschman doesn’t reach his ceiling and has a career more comparable to that of Wieters, Elias probably won’t be as devastated as you’d think considering the former Orioles catcher’s 18.3 career wins above replacement rank seventh in the 2007 draft, just two spots lower than where he was originally drafted. We so often evaluate players based only on our initial expectations without considering what the alternatives were at the time. There is no definitive crystal ball, no matter how refined predictive analytics are becoming.
Supporters of any pick will always imagine the best possible outcome while critics of a choice envision the worst-case scenario, but no one can know for sure — including Elias. The truth is even the first overall pick of a draft won’t make or break an entire rebuild, but the Orioles need Rutschman to help speed up the process at the very least.
A catcher going first overall is rare and comes with some risk, but Rutschman may prove special enough to carry the great responsibility of being the new face of the Orioles’ rebuild and a franchise player.
In the end, Elias didn’t overthink that consensus belief.