When a franchise is in the middle of a years-long rebuild, one of the most important questions for fans becomes when they will finally be able to watch their top prospects in the big leagues.
For the Orioles, there's no prospect rated more highly than Adley Rutschman. And for some fans, that means there's no question more important to answer than when he might be filling the catcher position in Baltimore.
Some fans clearly expect Rutschman's debut date to come sooner rather than later, considering as recently as a couple of weeks ago PointsBet gave him the fourth-best odds of anybody to win American League Rookie of the Year. At +1200, Rutschman's odds have dropped to just sixth in the AL, but those are still pretty high for a player who has yet to play a game above Low-A.
Predicting when Rutschman will debut is an inexact science. Not only is every player different, but GM Mike Elias and the current regime haven't been in Baltimore long enough to establish a track record for promoting their elite talent. The current front office has generally exhibited patience with guys like Ryan Mountcastle and Keegan Akin, two players who had to establish themselves at Triple-A before getting the call to the majors.
But Rutschman is a different level of talent than those two, or anybody else in the organization. Plus, it's impossible to gauge how the missed 2020 season - which was supposed to be Rutschman's first full year as a pro - impacted his development.
The number two overall prospect in baseball spent more time with the big league club in spring training than most expected, but that may have been a case of the Orioles trying to catch up on some missed development time.
Ultimately, it's probably fair to expect Rutschman won't be getting a promotion until much later this season at the absolute earliest. The Orioles are not expected to compete for a postseason spot in 2021, with FanGraphs notably giving them a 0.0% chance of playing October. They have a much better chance at earning the top pick in the 2022 MLB Draft than they do winning their division.
Because of this, the Orioles have a strong financial incentive to keep Rutschman down for a while. After a few weeks, they'll gain an additional year of control before he reaches free agency. A few weeks beyond that, they'll delay his arbitration eligibility which will save them money even while still controlling his rights.
All that is to say that as long as the Orioles aren't winning games, they have no reason to call him up - unless they believe it's for the best for his development. And considering his unfortunate lack of pro ball experience to date, it seems unlikely a call-up would be in his best interest anytime soon.
If Rutschman is going to play in Baltimore this season, it likely won't come until September. With plenty of other exciting young players making the Opening Day roster, there will be no shortage of prospects for O's fans to follow at the big league level this season. Unfortunately for fans hoping to see the top overall pick in the 2019 draft, that list just won't include Rutschman for a while.