Adley Rutschman on Learning How To Handle High Heaters

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Adley Rutschman batted .304 with a .581 slugging percentage against four-seam fastballs this season, and learning how to handle heaters up in the zone played a big part in that success. Prior to being drafted first overall by the Baltimore Orioles in 2019 out of Oregon State University, the 24-year-old catcher wasn’t used to being attacked with elevated offerings. That changed when he entered pro ball. As a result, Rutschman found himself having to make both mental and mechanical tweaks as a hitter, and he’s done so with aplomb. The switch-hitting catcher is coming off a rookie season during which he logged a 133 wRC+ with 49 extra-base hits in 470 plate appearances.

Rutschman discussed his up-in-the-zone approach when the Orioles visited Fenway Park in late September.


On adjusting to professional pitchers:
“Comparing the pitching styles of college versus pro ball, one of the biggest changes I’ve seen is guys pitching up in the zone. Another is that, analytically, teams are more so taking into account what guys do well and working off of those strengths. In college, I feel like how teams pitched was very program-dependent.

“Up here, if guys have a good four-seam fastball, they’re usually pitching up in the zone. If they’ve got a good two-seam fastball, they’re attacking you horizontally. That was a big adjustment, learning to cover top to bottom instead of just in and out. Not that guys here don’t ever thrown in and out. They will, so there’s more variation.

“I’d say [the biggest adjustment] was learning how to cover the high pitch. More specifically, it was learning to get to a high pitch that’s in the strike zone. In college, it was typically more pitches away, where you could have that deep barrel path and be putting the ball into left center.”

On how to get to an elevated fastball:
“One, it’s finding where the top of the zone is with your eyes — understanding what’s a strike and what’s not a strike. From there, it’s your bat path — figuring out how your body works in order for you to be able to get to that part of the zone effectively. A lot of times off the tee, guys will work from up-and-in to up-and-away, figuring out how they, as an individual, can get to those pitches. It’s something that guys have to figure out for themselves.

“On the high pitch, you’ve got to get on plane earlier. If you’re too lofty, it’s harder to get to them. Ideally, I’m flattening out quicker, because you have less time. The perceived velocity at the top of the zone is always going to be higher than it is at the bottom, so you’ve got to make up that time. With the bottom of the zone, you can let it get a little deeper. You can let the bat lag a little bit more, because it’s easier to go the other way.”

On training and the challenges of a long season:
“Our hitting coaches do a great job. It’s very person-dependent. Every guy has different drills that they’re doing in their prep work before we get into live hitting. I like the more challenging stuff, like [velocity training and mix BP], especially during the season. Even if my swing isn’t feeling quite right, or my bat path isn’t feeling quite right, I still want to be able to battle and compete at the plate on a given day. I want to see pitches — recognize pitches — and be able to put the ball in play hard.

“A lot of struggle comes with playing every single day. There are going to be days where you show up to the field and your swing feels one way — you could be in a great spot — but the very next day your swing feels completely different. It feels like your hands are in a different spot, or like your body is in a different spot, even though you’re landing the same, you’re basically doing everything the same. You need to figure out a way to make tiny critiques that allow you to feel good on that given day. And even if you don’t feel good, you need to find the mental capacity to trick yourself into feeling like you can compete. As far as hitting goes, I’d say that’s the biggest win you can get on a day-to-day basis when you’re playing so many games.”

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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1 month ago

This is not a groundbreaking statement, but wow he seems like a sharp dude.