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Orioles prospect season in review: Grayson Rodriguez

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The 19-year-old showed why he’s the centerpiece of the Orioles’ pitching rebuild.

SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images

There was a hope when the Baltimore Orioles drafted Grayson Rodriguez that they were getting someone special.

In 2019, Rodriguez provided more reason to believe the team was right.

The organization’s most prized young pitcher and one of the franchise’s cornerstones in its rebuilding project, Rodriguez was excellent in his first professional season. Pitching the entire year with Delmarva, the 19-year-old was 10-4 with a 2.68 ERA, earning a shared claim for the team’s Jim Palmer Minor League Pitcher of the Year award.

Yes, it’s just the Low-A level, and Rodriguez has a ways to go before he’s ready to toe the mound at Camden Yards, but all a player can do is handle the assignment he’s given, and Rodriguez passed his test in style. He struck out 129 batters in 94 innings, compiled a 0.989 WHIP, and surrendered only a .171 opponents’ batting average and .518 opponents’ OPS.

Just as importantly, Rodriguez was steady. In 17 of his 20 outings, he allowed two or fewer runs.

It was an encouraging season for the pitcher drafted with the 11th overall pick in the 2018 MLB draft out of Central Heights (Texas) High School. After being selected by the Orioles, Rodriguez spent the rest of 2018 in the Gulf Coast League, going 0-2 with a 1.40 ERA in nine appearances.

In 2018, Rodriguez was ranked the fifth-best prospect in the organization. This year, after his performance at Delmarva - one that saw him selected for the Futures Game in July - Rodriguez rose to the No. 2 spot.

According to a scouting report on CBSSports.com, Rodriguez is a classic power pitcher. He towers at 6-foot-5, and he has a velocity-laden arsenal to go with that frame. His fastball reaches the high 90s, and he has a hard-breaking slider that he used to punch out hitters this year at a rate of 12.35 per nine innings.

According to that report, though, the most intriguing pitch in his repertoire might be one that’s still in development. Rodriguez is working on a slow changeup, one that sits 12 or more miles an hour below his fastball. That’s a significant change of pace, and could be the difference between Rodriguez being a very good pitcher and him becoming a great one.

And yet, despite all the other pluses to his game - the velocity, the off-speed offerings, the strikeouts - it’s location and movement that suit Rodriguez best for a productive major league career, and in Baltimore in particular. As we’ve learned from a season spent watching the most home run happy pitching staff in baseball history, the ball flies at Camden Yards, so much so that some have speculated whether moving the fences is a requirement for the pitchers to ever collectively succeed.

Rodriguez, however, is tailor-made for success at Oriole Park. According to his MLB report, Rodriguez’s fastball has “heavy life,” and he demonstrates a “steep downhill plane with his pitches and already shows a propensity for getting ground balls.”

That’s good. That’s very, very good. And the stats show as much, as Rodriguez allowed only four home runs over 20 appearances. That’s a vital ability for Rodriguez to have. Strikeouts are nice, but in Baltimore, you’re toast if you can’t keep the ball down. Just ask Dylan Bundy.

So after a good year at Delmarva, the spotlight shifts to the future, and what 2020 will bring. There’s a pretty good comparison available with DL Hall, who was drafted 21st overall the year before, and like Rodriguez went from the Gulf Coast League to a full season in Delmarva. Hall’s next stop was a 2019 season spent entirely in Frederick at the High-A level, so that could very well be the plan with Rodriguez.

The O’s could also move Rodriguez up to Bowie with a good early showing in Frederick, but the plan certainly isn’t to rush him. He’ll only be 20 next year, and even if the Orioles take a slow-and-steady approach with their top young pitcher, he could still be making his major league debut at only 23. Baltimore has time on its side, and with a patient man in Mike Elias running the show, the team will and should act accordingly.

Fangraphs has Rodriguez’s ETA at 2023, while MLB has it at 2022. However you slice it, it won’t be anytime soon. But O’s fans have all the reason in the world to get excited about what he’ll look like when he finally gets the call.