At opposite ends of the tunnel that connects the home and visiting clubhouses in the bowels of Camden Yards, there were two teams that can relate to one another Monday night. There were two teams that have been through the doldrums of a rebuild, and two teams that now — finally — can feel the excitement that follows.

One was the Orioles, the other was the Reds. For Baltimore and Cincinnati, the likeness starts with their 100-loss seasons in recent years and continues with the excitement that follows the advancement of savior-esque prospects arriving in the major leagues.

The Orioles are ahead of the Reds, and they have a deeper prospect pool remaining in the minors for further promotions and, eventually, trades. But Cincinnati entered Monday’s series in Baltimore feeling much the same way the Orioles felt a year earlier.

The Orioles lost 110 games in 2021, then promoted top prospect Adley Rutschman on May 21, 2022, and finished 13 games over .500 the rest of the way. They’re now firmly in a playoff push, with fellow prospects Gunnar Henderson and Jordan Westburg since joining. The Reds lost 100 games last season but promoted Spencer Steer, Matt McLain and, most recently, Elly De La Cruz. Now they’re leading the National League Central.

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In many ways, Cincinnati is experiencing what Baltimore did last year, and the two clubs are at the crest of a youth movement that has swept through many of the top teams in Major League Baseball this year.

That creates a unique environment at Camden Yards this week — one filled with mutual respect. They know what each team went through, appreciate where they are now and know this can’t be the apex of all they want to achieve with this crop of young stars.

“I think us and Baltimore are following the same trajectory,” Reds outfielder Nick Senzel said. “I think ours probably happened a little faster. They’ve had a lot of young guys in the minor leagues — a ton of them, actually, and they still do. We’re kind of on similar routes. It’s fun to compete against teams like that, you know? You know the game is in a really good spot, too, with a bunch of young guys coming up and being really talented. It makes for really competitive games and series.”

The timelines and scale of each teams’ rebuild vary, which explains why the Orioles’ farm system is still top-ranked in the league. Baltimore began a sell-off amid a dismal 2018 campaign that featured 115 losses and then executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias was hired and made his first decision count: drafting Rutschman first overall in 2019.

The Orioles still slogged their way through the next several seasons, but the minor leagues gained talent through the draft and via trades — and when Rutschman arrived early in 2022, there was a noticeable shift in Baltimore’s tenor. First, they began to win. Next, fans began to believe again. And with more talent in the pipeline, it felt like just the start of the flow.

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Rutschman came first, but Henderson followed by the end of the season. Westburg earned his call-up Monday, and right-hander Grayson Rodriguez is back with Triple-A Norfolk yet will be a major piece of this rotation going forward. There are others, further off in the future, such as infielder Jackson Holliday who should contribute too.

“It’s interesting to see how time goes by and there’s always going to be new waves coming in and out,” Rutschman said. “I just feel fortunate to be in this spot right now with this team, and in a place where everyone is so optimistic and excited about this year and years to come.”

Cincinnati is experiencing that this season, especially after De La Cruz’s debut earlier this month. Rutschman and Henderson said they’ve seen De La Cruz’s highlights all over their social media feeds, and for good reason. By his 15th game, De La Cruz hit for the cycle. He entered Monday with a .333 average, three booming homers and two triples marked by his rapid rushes to third base.

Like Rutschman, the impact has been immediate. The Reds lost just four of the 17 games De La Cruz played in entering Monday.

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“He’s definitely made us better,” said Reds manager David Bell. “Young players stepping in and not only contributing right away but being impactful players, you don’t see that all the time.”

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But he has seen it at least once before. Bell kept moderately close tabs on the Orioles — or at least as close as one can when immersed in his own 162-game slate. Like Hyde often does for Baltimore, Bell credits Cincinnati’s player development system with how impressive some of his young players are.

Their farm system isn’t as deep as the Orioles’ but it benefitted from trades, the draft and an international scouting network. The Reds’ most impactful rookies (Steer, McLain, De La Cruz) each came from one of those avenues, respectively.

“You see all these prospects, these young prospects that are coming up, and sure enough they’re working really hard and showing off their talent,” De La Cruz said through a team interpreter. “It goes to show how well young prospects can do in the major leagues.”

It has also allowed the Reds to become competitive again in a short window.

“It felt like it happened pretty fast,” Bell said of Baltimore’s turnaround. “We’ve had the same goal here, knowing that once we start winning games, we want it to last for a long time. But our goal has been trying to make that happen as fast as we possibly can. [The Orioles have] been a little bit of a team to watch and just see how they go about it. So I definitely see some similarities.”

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Since De La Cruz debuted June 6, the Reds have gone from five games back of the division lead to holding a narrow edge. They’ve managed it with two walk-offs, six one-run victories and a 12-game winning streak that felt eerily familiar to what Baltimore experienced last year.

The Orioles embarked on a 10-game winning streak in July 2022 that pulled them to an above-.500 record that late into a season for the first time since Sept. 8, 2017.

After the 10th and final victory of that stretch, left-hander Cionel Pérez said it was “incredible.” Outfielder Austin Hays said every game felt winnable, and “that’s a feeling we haven’t had here in the last few years.”

That’s the power a big-time promotion can bring, a certain magic that sweeps its way through the clubhouse and translates onto the field — be it Rutschman or De La Cruz, the Orioles or the Reds.

“The talent is undeniable, and the things they can do on a baseball field are special,” Orioles first baseman Ryan O’Hearn said. “The plays the make, the balls they hit, the injection of energy is something that can spark a team. I don’t know if that’s where we’re at; I think this team is already on the right direction, an exciting direction, thanks to a lot of the young core we already have.”

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That’s because the Orioles are already a year into this experience. They’ve felt the boon that Rutschman brought, and each prospect that arrives now is a plus but isn’t required to energize an entire clubhouse.

Down the tunnel beneath Camden Yards to the visiting clubhouse, it’s a different story. It’s the Reds’ turn to become the latest club to benefit from a youth movement that has propelled their play to the next level.

andy.kostka@thebaltimorebanner.com

Andy Kostka is an Orioles beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Orioles for The Baltimore Sun. Kostka graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Rockville. 

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