Written by: Austin Hartsfield
2018 (SOPH) College Stats: AVG .408/ OBP .505/ SLG .628/ OPS 1.133 GP: 67/ AB: 250/ R: 56/ H: 102/ 2B: 22/ 3B: 3/ HR: 9/ RBI: 83 FLD %: .987 / E: 8/ CERA: 3.27
College: Oregon State
What is the most important position in baseball? A very good argument could be made for the catcher position, yet since 1990 the only true catcher (Bryce Harper was a C/OF) drafted at 1/1 (First Round/First Pick) was recently retired Minnesota Twins legend Joe Mauer, who was selected out of high school.
There have been some players that have been close, including last year when Joey Bart out of Georgia Tech was selected with the second overall pick by the San Fransisco Giants. Bart slashed .359/.471/.632 in his final year at Georgia Tech and was regarded as the hands-down best catching prospect of the draft class. Bart’s defense and ability to call his own games was a major highlight of his collegiate career. San Fransisco is hoping that he pans out and eventually takes the reigns when Buster Posey when he hangs up the chest protector.
While Bart is his successor, the next Buster Posey very well could be in Oregon, specifically in Corvallis. Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman is a switch hitter with almost no flaws. You’d be hard pressed to find a bigger beast at the Oregon Zoo.
The All-American slashed .408/.505/.628. Not only can he rake at the plate, but Rutschman also had the responsibility of catching the Beaver pitching staff that put up a top 15 ERA college baseball, in just his sophomore season in 2018 in which Oregon State would go on to win their 3rd National title in team history. The first things that skeptics usually ask when someone posts numbers like Adley did is, “Well yeah but what did he do when the lights were on him.” Rutschman has one of the most miraculous College World Series in NCAA history. The then Sophomore backstop hit .567 in 8 games on the games biggest stage, setting the hits record (17), while finishing second in OBP (.649), tied for second RBIs (13), and caught a pitching staff in the championship series that posted a 2.00 ERA. He earned the College World Series Most Outstanding Player, putting on a performance from a catcher that Omaha had never seen.
To give you an outside baseball example comparison, it is easier to find weaknesses in Duke basketball’s Zion Williamson than it is for Rutschman. Rutschman is as close to perfect as a catching prospect can be. His athleticism behind the plate allows his pitcher the comfort of not having to worry about constant past balls because of his blocking ability, with only 5 passed balls all of last year. He only threw out 25% of his runners, but a lot of that is due to small sample size, having only 16 runners take off on him the entire season. This is due to the reputation of his arm that makes coaches hesitant to send runners.
Now that we’ve covered the defensive side of the ball lets look at his offense. How does he stack up compared to catchers of the past outside of the aforementioned Joey Bart? Let’s take a look at two sets of statistics for catchers. One of them is the subject of this entire report, the other is the catcher for Baseball America’s “College Baseball’s Best of the Decade” for 2000-2010, and the best catcher of his generation, Buster Posey.
At a glance, you would look at Rutschman’s stats from his freshman year and have some concern about 2017 because of the potential that he could regress back to that. In order to understand what I believe as to why there was such a dramatic increase in almost every statistical category, you have to look at his activities outside of baseball. His freshman year he was not only the catcher for the Beavers but also the placekicker for the college’s football team. While this just sounds like a fun fact, it’s actually extremely important when you consider that for the entirety of football season he was working out and practicing with the team. At that same time a year later he would be able to focus on baseball specifically. It seems that having only one sport to focus on for an entire offseason made an impact on the catcher.
There are very few players that are this way in sports. In order to find a weakness for the Oregon State catcher, you have to nitpick. In a generation where Joey Gallo strikes out in 44% of all of his At-Bats, Adley goes against the grain and has walked more in Corvallis than he has struck out. As far as I can see, he can improve the above-average skills that he already has.
If you told me that I have to pick a weakness I would tell you that he needs to do it in consecutive seasons, and needs to add a little more pop. He put up one of the best seasons by a catcher in college baseball history and did it with having only nine home runs the entire season. If he can even come close to repeating that season again he should be hands down be the #1 candidate for going 1/1 to the Baltimore Orioles.
Another thing is we haven’t seen him perform yet with a wooden bat for a lot of at-bats. He does have a few at-bats in what some consider to be the best wooden bat league outside of Major League Baseball, in the country, the Cape Cod League, and he did struggle. As I continue to nitpick, however, this is not even enough at-bats to even be able to form a fair opinion on him.
There are no sure things when it comes to baseball because of the amount of time it takes from when you’re selected on draft day to the day you walk on the field for your major league debut. A lot of things can happen in those years, but Rutschman is hands down the best college catching prospect that I have seen in my short life. As we saw above, he’s already hitting better than Buster Posey was during his sophomore season (outside of the power numbers). If you asked me who I think his floor is it would be Miguel Montero. The reasoning for Montero is that he was a great defensive catcher that would bat for a good average for the position. At worst he is a serviceable everyday catcher that will hit .250 and play solid defense behind the plate calling a game.
His ceiling, on the other hand, is insane. This kid could be the best catcher of his generation like the aforementioned Posey and could collect silver sluggers, gold gloves and pretty much any hardware possible. Buster is a good comparison because up until this point Posey has not had a 25 HR season in his career, averaging around 19 a season. I expect Rutschman to be around that number, though I do believe that his ability to bat from both sides of the plate will result in him having a better batting average than Posey.
We will have to wait until June 3rd to find out exactly where Rutshman lands and even longer to find out how much he signs for (if he doesn’t elect to go back for his senior season at Oregon State) ,but until then lets enjoy what could be a once in a lifetime collegiate catcher.