Adley Rutschman impressed at the Home Run Derby. But who would win a homer contest among just Orioles players?

15 July 2023

Baseball fans weren’t the only ones in awe watching Adley Rutschman’s switch-hitting spectacle at the Home Run Derby. His teammates were, too.

“That was electric,” first baseman Ryan O’Hearn said.

Rutschman lost in the first round to Luis Robert Jr. of the Chicago White Sox, but his 27-homer performance was the latest star-worthy moment in the still-nascent career of Baltimore’s All-Star catcher. While Rutschman’s teammates weren’t surprised by his success, his profile isn’t that of a typical Home Run Derby candidate. Rutschman’s plate discipline and contact ability are better traits than his power, as he’s hit just 25 long balls in 200 career games.

That doesn’t mean anything to O’Hearn, though. If the Orioles had their own home run contest, O’Hearn would put his money on Rutschman — especially after seeing his success on the big stage Monday.

“Probably Adley,” O’Hearn said when posed with the question. “He’s got as much juice as anybody that I’ve seen.”

The Baltimore Sun posed that same question to several Orioles. Who would win a home run contest among just those in Baltimore’s clubhouse?

“That’s tough,” starting pitcher Kyle Bradish said. “We have a lot of big boppers.”

Despite the challenge of the assignment, every respondent named the same slugger, believing he would either win or come in second.

“I would say Ryan Mountcastle would win,” outfielder Colton Cowser said. “Yeah, he puts on a pretty good BP [batting practice].”

Mountcastle’s monthlong absence with vertigo didn’t make his teammates forget his big fly prowess, nor did it make them less confident in his ability to put on a show in a hypothetical derby. In fact, Bradish didn’t see the question as hypothetical; he hopes Mountcastle one day gets the opportunity to mash away in the Home Run Derby.

“I think his BP, it feels like he can almost hit the ball out whenever he wants,” Bradish said. “I was talking to him earlier this year that he needs to do one at some point if he gets asked.”

Each hitter asked was too humble to say himself, even though a couple have legitimate cases. No Oriole hits the ball as hard and as often as O’Hearn and Gunnar Henderson, but neither left-handed hitter was willing to answer with himself. O’Hearn, who is having a breakout season with the Orioles after spending most of his career as a left-handed bench bat, leads Baltimore with a .532 slugging percentage. Henderson’s 13 home runs rank second on the team.

“Maybe,” O’Hearn said when asked about himself having a chance. “I don’t know. I’d give it my best shot.”

“I have no idea how I would do,” Henderson said. “I don’t know if I’d put up 27 in the first round.”

Henderson said he’d choose Rutschman or Mountcastle as his winner. However, he raised a critical question that would drastically change anyone’s answer: What stadium would the derby be at?

Camden Yards’ new dimensions are unfriendly to right-handed hitters in actual games. In a home run contest, Oriole Park is virtually inhospitable for righties.

“If you’re hitting here, I don’t think Adley would’ve switched over to the right side,” Henderson said with a laugh, referencing how Rutschman used his final 30 seconds at the derby to hit from the right side instead of the left.

Last season, the Orioles changed the dimensions of the left field wall at Camden Yards to make the park more pitcher-friendly. It’s worked, and a frequent occurrence at Oriole Park is a right-handed hitter smashing a near-400 foot fly ball to left field, only to have it hit off the 13-foot wall or land in the left fielder’s glove.

Bradish also recognized the quandary that having the hypothetical derby at Camden Yards would pose and then listed several different left-handed hitters he thinks would fare well: Rutschman, Henderson, O’Hearn, Anthony Santander and Cedric Mullins.

“Take your pick with those guys,” Bradish said.

Of course, that fictional derby won’t ever happen — at least not in a public way. However, it is possible a Home Run Derby one day makes its way back to Baltimore.

The Orioles haven’t hosted an All-Star Game or the Derby since 1993 in Camden Yards’ second season. The Texas Rangers and Philadelphia Phillies will host the Midsummer Classic in 2024 and 2026, respectively, leaving 2025′s festivities open. According to USA Today, Baltimore is on a shortlist with Toronto and Atlanta as potential hosts that year.

That would open up the chance that Rutschman could participate in another Derby, but in front of his home crowd in Baltimore rather than in the closest MLB stadium to his hometown of Sherwood, Oregon. Henderson said he watched the Derby with his family back home in Alabama, marveling at Rutschman smashing baseballs left and right — literally — on the national stage.

“It was really cool to see one of your best friends out there doing his thing,” Henderson said. “It was awesome. I wouldn’t say I was surprised, but to hit 27 in your very first round ever, I don’t think anybody was expecting that.”


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