MLB Prospect Watch: Adley Rutschman is helping the surging Orioles and living up to the hype

Here’s a question that would’ve been silly to pose in early July: can Adley Rutschman surpass Julio Rodríguez for the American League Rookie of the Year Award?

At the time, Rutschman was a month into his big-league career and scuffling. He had exited June beating .220/.287/.407 with three home runs in 32 games. Rodríguez, conversely, had spent the entire season in the majors and had compiled a .272/.333/.466 slash line with 13 home runs in 77 games. No one was casting doubt on Rutschman’s future, but it seemed improbable that he’d cause Rodríguez to sweat.

Since then? Rutschman has shown why CBS Sports ranked him as the sport’s best prospect entering the spring. He’s hit .284/.439/.451 with 13 extra-base hits and more walks (27) than strikeouts (20) in his last 32 games. He’s been one of the key drivers behind the Orioles’ surge. Rodríguez has performed well, too, batting for a .884 OPS, but injuries have recently limited his availability, allowing a Rutschman a chance to close in — and remember, when it comes to awards, it’s all about the counting stats.

There’s no easy way to judge the actual distance between the two players in the voters’ eyes, but one way to gauge these types of things is to consider the gap in their various Win Above Replacement metrics. To wit, Rutschman is 0.4 wins behind in both Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs’ calculations; he remains more than a win back according to Baseball-Reference’s framework, however. There’s time for those marks to change but it seems fair to write that Rodríguez remains secure as the current frontrunner for the award.

Of course, none of this detracts from what Rutschman has done over the summer, and it’s a testament to his recent tear that it’s even a topic worthy of consideration. What’s more important than some hardware is that he is and continues to prove that he’s capable of serving as a well-rounded, face-of-the-franchise-caliber backstop.

Rutschman has mostly checked those boxes as of late. At the plate, he’s shown a keen eye and a feel for making contact, often of the line-drive variety. Rutschman has struggled as a right-handed batter (his OPS from the left side is .952, as opposed to .498 from the right side), and his power numbers aren’t quite where you’d expect them to be given his plus raw strength. It should be noted that both of those aspects could be a byproduct of a small sample size: for instance, he’s taken fewer than 100 plate appearances against lefties to date. It is worth wondering, though, if Camden’s redesigned left-field dimensions are having something to do with his relative power outage: his ISO on the road is 80 points higher than it is at home — again, in a smallish sample. Either way, we’re not too concerned about those blemishes just yet.

Behind the plate, Rutschman has left no question about his defense. He was always regarded as a field general type who can manage a pitching staff. His catch-and-throw skills have justified their hype. He ranks eighth in the majors in Framing Runs Added Above Average, putting him in company with the likes of Sean Murphy and Yasmani Grandal. Rutschman’s pop time to second base — meaning the time it takes for him to catch the ball, transfer it, and then throw it to the infielder manning the bag — ranks in the 88th percentile, according to Statcast. Most stolen bases are taken off the pitcher, not the catcher, and Rutschman seems more than capable of holding up his end of the bargain, provided his pitcher gives him a chance.

Add it all together, and it’s reasonable to think this won’t be the last time Rutschman (or Rodríguez, for that matter) competes for an award.

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