The next time the Orioles play a home game, you can expect Adley Rutschman to be their starting catcher.
That’s the consensus among those on the Orioles beat. Now the undisputed top prospect in baseball with Julio Rodriguez and Bobby Witt already entrenched in the majors, Rutschman is back at Triple-A after brief layovers at High-A and Double-A, his rehabilitation from a preseason triceps train seemingly complete. At the start of that rehab assignment, all GM Mike Elias said Rutschman had to do to reach the majors was prove that “he is himself,” and the expectation is he’ll have done that by the time the Orioles return home for a four -game series against the Yankees on Monday.
In fact, you could argue he already has.
five on the verge
(These are the prospects most worth stashing in redraft leagues.)
Adley Rutschman, C, Orioles
2021 minors: .285 BA (452 AB), 23 HR, 25 2B, .899 OPS, 79 BB, 90 K
2022 minors: .341 BA (41 AB), 5 2B, 8 BB, 5 K
The clearest sign of his readiness is the plate discipline, which was superlative last year and has been near flawless through 12 games this year. Of course, “flawless” is a word often used to describe Rutschman, who has no obvious weaknesses either offensively or defensively. Seeing as he was the first overall pick in the 2019 draft, the Orioles have been unusually patient with him, and at 24, he isn’t even really a kid anymore.
It doesn’t guarantee immediate success, of course. Prospects have generally had a more difficult time transitioning in recent years, and it goes double for catchers, whose defensive responsibilities divide their focus. But it’s the potential Rutschman offers at such a volatile position that makes him a priority in Fantasy, rostered in 80 percent of CBS Sports leagues before he even gets the call because he could immediately be a top-five option there.
Nolan Gorman, 2B, Cardinals
2021 minors: .279 BA (480 AB), 25 HR, .814 OPS, 38 BB, 115 K
2022 minors: .287 BA (108 AB), 12 HR, .998 OPS, 10 BB, 42 K
In what seemed like a precursor to Gorman’s promotion, the Cardinals optioned struggling shortstop Paul DeJong to Triple-A Tuesday, but alas, Gorman hasn’t arrived yet. It’s reminiscent of when the Rays traded Willy Adames last May only to call up Taylor Walls instead of Wander Franco.
Franco eventually came up, and of course, Gorman will, too. The Cardinals say they’re giving Edmundo Sosa a chance to win the shortstop job, but they’re also giving second baseman Tommy Edman more pregame work at shortstop, presumably in anticipation of him sliding over there to accommodate Gorman. For as much as Gorman has mashed, he has also struck out 35 percent of the time at Triple-A as compared to just 19.2 percent in 76 games there last year. The Cardinals know he can do better, in other words, and are probably just waiting to see it.
Max Meyer, SP, Marlins
2021 minors: 6-4, 2.27 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 111 IP, 42 BB, 130 K
2022 minors: 2-0, 1.72 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 31 1/3 IP, 9 BB, 39 K
The buzz a week ago, fueled by the Miami Herald, was that the Marlins were on the verge of making a change to their starting rotation, specifically replacing a struggling Elieser Hernandez with Meyer, who continues to dominate at Triple-A. It was less report than rumor, but the timing seemed logical enough. Since then, Hernandez has made one start, and it was … better than terrible. He lowered his ERA to 6.37, at least, and everything appears status quo. One complicating factor is that Edward Cabrera has recovered from an early-season biceps injury, but he had a nightmarish debut last year and is struggling to throw strikes even now. I still say to stash Meyer ahead of him.
Jo Adell, OF, Angels
2021 minors: .289 BA (311 AB), 23 HR, 8 SB, .934 OPS, 22 BB, 99 K
2022 minors: 7 for 15, 3 HR, 5 BB, 4 K
2022 majors: .231 BA (65 AB), 3 HR, 1 SB, 1 BB, 24 K
Adell technically doesn’t qualify as a prospect anymore — too many big-league at-bats — but in terms of youth and upside, he certainly fits the bill. His uneven showing in his third go this year is hardly his fault. The Angels weren’t committed to playing him, using him mostly as an injury sub and weak-side platoon bat. Already, though, the 23-year-old is showing he has nothing more to gain in the minors, at least not offensively, homering three times in four games. This 460-foot blast Tuesday was a treat for the eyes and years:
His inclusion here is partly demonstrative, to help you gauge how stashable these Five on the Verge are. If Adell doesn’t make the cut in your league, well …
Oneil Cruz, SS, Pirates
2021 minors: .310 BA (271 AB), 17 HR, 19 SB, .969 OPS, 28 BB, 69 K
2022 minors: .186 BA (102 AB), 2 HR, 8 SB, .632 OPS, 16 BB, 32 K
After hitting rock bottom last week, Cruz is beginning to climb out of it just a bit. He has struck out only four times in seven May games and is 6 for 20 (.300) with a home run and stolen base over his past five. It’s not exactly rewriting the record books, but it might be incentive enough to hold on just a little longer to a player you were so excited to draft six weeks ago. Remember, the Twins called up Jose Miranda at the first signs of life. They didn’t wait for his numbers to recover completely. Of course, they also have something to play for, unlike the Pirates.
five on the periphery
(Here are some other prospects doing something of note.)
JJ Bleday, OF, Marlins
2021 minors: .212 BA (397 AB), 12 HR, 22 2B, .696 OPS, 64 BB, 101 K
2022 minors: .226 BA (106 AB), 6 HR, 5 2B, .817 OPS, 22 BB, 32 K
The fourth overall pick in 2019, Bleday was so bad during his first two years in the minors that he probably got dumped in your Dynasty league. But after lowering his hands for better bat control, he showed signs of coming around in the Arizona Fall League last year, batting .316 with five homers and a 1.035 OPS in 24 games, and it seems to have carried into the regular season. After a sluggish start at Triple-A, he’s batting .326 (14 for 43) with four homers over his past 12 games. His on-base skills have always been top notch, and he led the NCAA in home runs during his final year at Vanderbilt. You could see him developing into the complete package still.
Gunnar Henderson, SS, Orioles
2021 minors: .258 BA (399 AB), 17 HR, 16 SB, .826 OPS, 56 BB, 143 K
2022 minors: .310 BA (87 AB), 4 HR, 10 SB, .968 OPS, 26 BB, 21 K
A hot start last year saw Henderson quickly promoted to high Class A, where he mostly struggled. The issue was a lack of contact. He struck out at a 30.9 percent rate, which is only tenable for players with transcendent power. It makes his performance now at Double-A all the more noteworthy. He has cut his strikeout rate nearly in half, actually walking more than he’s struck out and thus turning his biggest flaw into a strength. He’s also running more than ever, flashing the sort of across-the-board skill set Fantasy Baseballers covet at an age (20) that puts him well ahead developmentally.
Brayan Bello, SP, Red Sox
2021 minors: 7-3, 3.87 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 95 1/3 IP, 31 BB, 132 K
2022 minors: 4-2, 1.60 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 33 2/3 IP, 12 BB, 42 K
The 22-year-old did some growing up during the pandemic, enjoying a big velocity jump last year. While his strikeout rate went up with it, he still looked hittable at times. Not this year. In fact, he actually threw a seven-inning no-hitter on May 5 and followed it up with three hits over six shutout innings Tuesday. He’s leaned into his ground-ball tendencies this year, generating them at better than a 60 percent rate, and it has him looking like a more complete pitcher — one who potentially get the call later this year.
Ken Waldichuk, SP, Yankees
2021 minors: 6-3, 3.03 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 110 IP, 51 BB, 163 K
2022 minors: 3-0, 1.14 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 23 2/3 IP, 9 BB, 40 K
Waldichuk first made himself known to the prospect world last year, which began with him delivering seven scoreless starts at High-A — that’s starts, not innings. He hit a wall at Double-A, struggling with walks and homers while still missing bats at an elite rate, but his return trip has gone much better. In fact, he struck out 12 over five no-hit innings last time out. Apparently, some mechanical tweaks are largely to credit, which must have been tricky given that his unorthodox delivery is the key to his success. His is the sort of oddball profile that traditional rank lists tend to sell short.
Gordon Graceffo, SP, Cardinals
2021 minors: 1-0, 1.73 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 26 IP, 9 BB, 37 K
2022 minors: 2-1, 1.07 ERA, 0.56 WHIP, 33 2/3 IP, 2 BB, 46 K
Everyone wants to find “the next Spencer Strider”, and by that I mean an unheralded draft pick who so thoroughly dominates right out the gate that he positions himself for a big-league call-up before anyone has had a chance to learn his name . Gracefo may be that guy. He’s a little different from Strider in that he stands out mostly for his control, having thrown 70 percent of his pitches for strikes so far, but the added power element is what’s allowed him to take off this year. He’s hitting 98 mph now after the beginning of last year 87-91.