Orioles catching prospect Adley Rutschman recently suffered a right triceps strain, the team informed reporters (including Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com). The club is shutting him down from activity for the next two to three weeks.
With the MLB season set to begin in 22 days, it seems as if the injury will keep Rutschman from being ready for Opening Day. He presumably won’t jump right back into game action once he’s again cleared to begin baseball activities. Getting him back up to game speed could take some time, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him open the year on the injured list.
Rutschman is the sport’s most promising farmhand in the estimation of each of Baseball America, FanGraphs, MLB Pipeline and The Athletic. There’s no indication the injury poses a long-term concern, but the O’s will surely be cautious with a player they envision as a central piece of the future.
That’s all the more true because the injury could give the team a justification for keeping Rutschman in the minor leagues for the first few weeks. The 24-year-old is not yet on the 40-man roster, meaning he’d go on the minor league injured list if an IL stint is ultimately required. Rutschman wouldn’t accrue major league pay or service time for any time spent on the MiLB IL. The front office is obviously keenly aware that keeping him in the minor leagues for an extra couple of weeks could delay his path to free agency until the 2028-29 offseason.
Given those service time considerations, it seemed unlikely the rebuilding Orioles would break camp with Rutschman even were he healthy. Yet the injury could provide them some cover against backlash that may have arisen from the fanbase for holding him down to start the year, akin to Vladimir Guerrero Jr.‘s Spring Training injury back in 2019. It’s hard to argue Rutschman isn’t ready for the big leagues on merit after he combined for a .285/.397/.502 line between Double-A and Triple-A last season.
The new collective bargaining agreement made some efforts to deter service time manipulation. Teams are eligible to receive extra draft choices for carrying players who later go to win major awards on their Opening Day rosters. The top two finishers in Rookie of the Year voting in each league will “earn” a full year of service time no matter how many days they spend on the active roster, so Rutschman could still play his way into a full season of service even if he doesn’t break camp. At present, Robinson Chirinos looks likely to open the year behind the plate for manager Brandon Hyde.