BALTIMORE — With Adley Rutschman arriving at Oriole Park on Saturday, the wait is over.
Few prospects in recent memory have generated more hype than Rutschman since the Orioles drafted him first overall in the 2019 Draft, making his debut a must-see not just for Orioles fans, but for the baseball world at large. But his is not the first highly anticipated debut in franchise history. Where does it rank?
Let’s look back on the most buzzworthy debuts in O’s history to find out.
1. Matt Wieters, C
May 29, 2009
Even though they’re different players, many will compare Rutschman and Wieters because of the easy parallels: their position, their ability to switch-hit and the hype. It was so big with Wieters that then-team president Andy MacPhail went on television to announce his impending arrival days in advance, an extremely uncharacteristic move for the executive. The Orioles sold thousands of walk-up tickets for his debut, a late May game against the Tigers set almost two full years from the day they drafted Wieters fifth overall out of Georgia Tech. Press clippings from those days quoted people describing Wieters in such terms as “Joe Mauer with power,” “Switch-hitting Jesus” and “simply God.”
Like Rutschman, Wieters was the nation’s consensus top player and likely would’ve gone first overall if not for signability questions. Also similarly, the Orioles were trying to emerge from a dark period at the time; by 2009, they were mired in the 12th of what would be 14 consecutive losing seasons. Wieters went hitless in front of 42,704 fans in his debut and went on to be a four-time All-Star over eight seasons in Baltimore.
2. Manny Machado, 3B
Aug. 9, 2012
The Orioles didn’t miss much picking third in the ultra-talented 2010 Draft, selecting Machado out of the Miami high school ranks behind Bryce Harper and Jameson Taillon. He was in the Majors two years later, summoned a month after his 20th birthday to help an Orioles team eying its first playoff berth in 15 years. The city was abuzz with the postseason chances and the arrival of its new infield phenom.
“The only reason we did it, the biggest reason, is because we think he can help us win more games potentially,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter told the Baltimore Sun at the time. “Our needs, and where Manny was, we felt like he could help us. We’ve got 50-ish games left and we think he’s our best option.”
Moving to third with J.J. Hardy at short, Machado went 2-for-4 with a triple in his debut and contributed on both sides of the ball down the stretch, helping Baltimore to the American League Division Series. He quickly grew into a perennial All-Star and one of the most productive all-around players of the 2010s.
3. Ben McDonald, RHP
Sept. 6, 1989
Prospect hype is not exclusive to this era, but it is a relatively modern concept. There was no internet or social media when McDonald debuted for the Orioles down the stretch in ’89, but his arrival still marks one of the most anticipated by a pitcher in the history of the sport.
That was the product of McDonald’s All-American collegiate career at Louisiana State, where he twice led the Tigers to the College World Series and also starred for Team USA. He was the Orioles’ first ever No. 1-overall pick in ’89 — and was in the Majors less than three months later for the “Why Not?” O’s team attempting to complete an unlikely playoff push. Those Orioles fell just short, using McDonald strictly in relief down the stretch. He’d go on to pitch seven solid, but not star-level, seasons for the Orioles, retiring after 1997 due to shoulder problems.
4. Mike Mussina, RHP
Aug. 4, 1991
Mussina was such a star at Stanford, the Orioles actually drafted him twice — eventually signing the righty after making him the 20th overall pick in the 1990 Draft. Talented and polished, Mussina made just 28 Minor League starts before he was summoned to Baltimore to widespread excitement. He lived up to all of it, spending the first decade of his decorated, Hall of Fame career starring atop the Orioles rotation.
If the theme of Mussina’s Cooperstown career was “almost,” (he famously fell just shy of several no-hitters and did not compile 20 wins until his final season with the Yankees) then perhaps it was fitting his debut unfolded the way it did. He took a hard-luck loss, despite pitching 7 2/3 innings of one-run ball against the White Sox in Baltimore’s 1-0 defeat that night.
Honorable mention: RHP Kevin Gausman, RHP Dylan Bundy, LHP Brian Matusz