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Q&A With Dodgers Prospect Dalton Rushing: His Hot Start, Succeeding The No. 1 Pick And More

Dalton Rushing (Mika Salazar Rancho Cucamonga Quakes)
Dalton Rushing (Mika Salazar/Rancho Cucamonga Quakes)

Over the last month, no player has generated more buzz in the California League than Rancho Cucamonga catcher Dalton Rushing.

Rushing, the 40th overall pick by the Dodgers out of Louisville in this year’s draft, entered the week batting .485 with nine doubles, six home runs and 22 RBIs in 21 games since joining Rancho Cucamonga on Aug. 4. He recorded as many walks as strikeouts (15) and owned a 1.468 OPS with the Quakes, the highest OPS in the minors in that time.

It’s a small sample size and Rushing is playing inferior competition as a college draftee in Low-A, but even taking those factors into account, his performance and tools have led observers to frequently remark he should have been taken 10-20 spots higher in the draft.

Rushing spent three years at Louisville, the same program that produced current Dodgers catcher Will Smith, and was teammates with Dodgers No. 2 prospect Bobby Miller with the Cardinals in 2020. He played only 11 games as a freshman before the coronavirus pandemic halted the season and got limited playing time as the backup to eventual No. 1 overall pick Henry Davis in 2021, but he succeeded Davis as Louisville’s starting catcher this spring and hit .310 with a team-high 23 home runs to make the most of his first extended playing opportunity.

Rushing hasn’t slowed down since being drafted. Since he arrived at Rancho Cucamonga, he has shown expert command of the strike zone and is punishing baseballs with mesmerizing impact when he gets a pitch to hit. He has posted exit velocities of 95 mph or greater on nearly half (49.1%) of all balls he has hit in his pro debut and is repeatedly clearing 400 feet on his home runs. He’s generating that power while keeping his chases and swings and misses to a minimum, showing hints of being the rare player—and even rarer catcher—who has a chance to hit for average and power.

Rushing has had more struggles on defense with six passed balls in 12 games and only a 10% caught stealing rate, but sturdy athleticism and top-tier makeup have the Dodgers optimistic he will improve in time.

Rushing sat down with Baseball America earlier this month to discuss his early success, his relationship with Smith and what it was like succeeding the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.

This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Only a few months ago you were still playing college baseball. You get drafted, get up quickly to Rancho Cucamonga and hit the ground running. What’s been the biggest key to your early success?

Dalton Rushing: I think the easiest way to hit is hit the fastball. A lot of guys take that out of perspective sometimes and they want to worry about the small things. Hitting is hard enough as it is. You just simplify it as much as possible. And that goes the same way on the other side of things playing defense. My job personally being a catcher is to make sure my pitcher succeeds at the highest level and make sure he has the most success on the field and off the field as well. That's just what I've tried to do in my time here. Just keep everyone on the same page. Just play the game of baseball.

Henry Davis was the No. 1 overall pick out of Louisville last year and you succeeded him as the Cardinals starting catcher this year. What was it like sitting behind him last year, seeing him go first overall and then having the challenge of succeeding him?

Rushing: It just shows the competition that runs throughout Louisville. You obviously see the guys that have come out of there, whether they're with the Dodgers, the Pirates, whoever it may be, there's competition every single year. It doesn't matter if you're a freshman or if you're a junior, you're gonna get your opportunity and it's all about what you do with that opportunity and how well you compete at that level. The ACC is a great, great conference. I think it's the best conference in baseball. Obviously, I'm a little biased, but that was the biggest thing for me. Just learning to compete at the right level and playing with guys like that just only grow you as a player.

Was it frustrating maybe not getting the playing time that you were hoping for when Davis was there?

Rushing: It was frustrating. That's any baseball player that's not getting the opportunities that they like, of course, but I think that's also what builds people and makes guys better. Like myself, I got to watch a lot of baseball in 2021 and that was something that turned around in 2022. I wasn't gonna slack in any way. I was going to make sure I made the most of every little second that I had on the field. My biggest point going into 2022 was to get Louisville back on track to where they were before. We had a rough 2021, but it was up to guys like me and other leaders on the team to bounce back and bring that legacy back.

You got the opportunity to start this year and really ran with it. Were you kind of chomping at the bit for the opportunity and when it came you were ready for it?

Rushing: Yeah. It goes right back to what I was talking about with competing. That's my favorite thing to do. I love to compete no matter what it is. Football, baseball, it doesn't matter. I just want to compete and have fun doing it. And that was what I was able to do. We didn't have the talent on the team that some of these guys did in Super Regionals running deep into the tournament, but we bonded well. We were the greatest team in the country, I believe, as far as like, bonds with each other, and we just came up a little short. That's baseball.

Draft day comes and the Dodgers select you 40th overall. What were your thoughts and reactions when that happened?

Rushing: I just wanted the opportunity. I was just waiting for whoever gave me that right opportunity and I couldn't be happier with the Dodgers. I mean, they gave me every resource and made sure that I'm taken care of on every single plane. It’s greatest organization in baseball, so keep I'm excited to keep going.

Will Smith was at Louisville well before you, but have you talked with him since you got drafted?

Rushing: Yeah. We'd spoken a few times before and I’d worked with him a little bit. Obviously he knows everything. He's one of the best catchers in baseball right now. Learning from guy like him was something I really took pride in and I was able to grow as a player going into my junior year. After the draft he shot me a text me and he was like “Hey, I'm glad we have you. Nobody else. Best organization in baseball. Let's get to work.”

When did you and Will first meet?

Rushing: First time we met was probably, I think, fall of my freshman year. I got to talk to him a little bit. He came back my sophomore year that's when I kind of got to know him a little bit more. We're with the same agency and the same agent, actually, so we shoot (texts) back here and there and just talk catching. He's the man.

Did you ever do any catching work with him or just talk mostly?

Rushing: Very little. But I mean, just the conversations you have with him, you learn so much in just a short amount of time.

How often would you say you guys talk?

Not very often, obviously. It's when the opportunity comes. We spoke a little bit after the draft of course. I hope to actually get with him this fall and learn more about the game of baseball in general. Not even just catching. Just organization as a whole and get to know each other a little better.

Did he text you right away after the Dodgers picked you?

Rushing: Yeah. He shot me a text. I actually hadn’t even opened my phone yet and it popped up like “Hey, it's Will” congratulating me. That was something really cool. I was like, wow, this is an MLB all-star and he's reaching out telling me he's happy to have me. It was pretty cool.

Dalton Rushing (Mika Salazar Rancho Cucamonga Quakes)

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You signed quickly, started out in Arizona, got bumped up to Rancho Cucamonga and have been crushing since you got here. You mentioned hunting fastballs. Is that all there is to it?

Rushing: No. It's just being a hitter. Being athletic and being open to every little opportunity. You're gonna get a fastball to hit. When you miss that fastball, that's when you become a hitter. You hit every single pitch that's over the plate and stay true to your zone. Don't expand it. Hitting is hard enough as it is, like I said.

How does it feel getting into pro ball and showing right away that you can perform at this level?

Rushing: It's cool, but I mean, it's just one day at a time. What happened yesterday doesn't really matter. Lose a ballgame, you gotta win tomorrow. That's the way I kind of think about it. Moving into tomorrow our job is to win against whoever's in the other dugout.

We’ve talked a lot about your offense. Defensively, what have been your main focal points you want to work on?

Rushing: Creating bonds with my pitchers. I'm not worried about my throwing. I'll worry about that in the offseason. My biggest thing is I want to create a relationship with every single arm that's coming out of the bullpen (and) every single arm and stepping on the bump start the game. I think that's what really sticks out as a catcher. That's what separates good from the great, being able to work with every single guy and knowing how to talk to them because everyone's different when they're on the mound.

How do you think that’s gone so far?

Rushing: It's great. I have great relationships with a lot of our arms and it's one of the greatest things. Even the Latin American guys. I mean, I'll go up there and I feel like I know exactly what to say to them. I have a little bit of translation, but I just know how to get them up and get them moving on the mound. And I think that's the greatest thing.

You played football in high school and were a pretty good middle linebacker. How much of that football mentality do you take onto the diamond with you?

Rushing: It's the same way when I was on a football field and when I'm on a baseball field. I play with a lot of a lot of energy, a lot of passion. It just goes back to what I was talking about with my pitchers. There's certain pitchers I can go up there and I can get in them a little bit and that helps them out on the mound. But there's also guys where you gotta know the difference. You got to know who you can go up there and calm down, how to calm them down, or how to get them in the zone. Football helped me out a lot with that because you have different personalities and every sport. I think it benefited me a lot.

What do you want to accomplish here in your pro debut before you head into the offseason?

Rushing: I just want to leave the best example of Dalton Rushing that I can possibly leave and make sure they know that I'm going to work no matter if I'm hitting .400 or .150.

I noticed earlier that when one your teammates got promoted, you smiled and told him you’ll see him in a month. Is one of you goals to get promoted to Great Lakes before the end of the year?

Rushing: I'm just doing whatever they think is best for me. This the best organization baseball going back to what I said earlier, and it's whatever their plan is for me. I think it's gonna be the best plan for the future.

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