The Orioles’ big hope at the plate is Adley Rutschman. On the mound, it’s Grayson Rodriguez.
And if the 2021 season is any indication, the hope of the Orioles and their fans is well-placed.
Baltimore had few development stories this year better than that of the 21-year-old right-handed hurler. Rodriguez spent the majority of the season in Double-A Bowie after starting at Single-A Aberdeen, and his work was terrific at both stops. After going 3-0 with a 1.54 ERA with the IronBirds, he went 6-1 in 18 starts with the Baysox, compiling a 2.94 ERA and striking out 121 batters in 79.2 innings.
On the heels of that output, Rodriguez is the second-ranked prospect in the organization, behind only Rutschman, his battery-mate-to-be soon enough.
It was just more good news from the Houston native, who was drafted 11th overall in the 2018 draft out of Central Heights High School in Nacogdoches, Texas. Even though he wasn’t taken in the top couple of picks, there was excitement around his selection, and with it some pressure as he was the first top pick taken after the Orioles started their 2018 implosion - and therefore, an immediate face of the Baltimore rebuild.
From the start, Rodriguez has looked up to the task. After posting a 1.40 ERA in Gulf Coast League work, Rodriguez got his first full taste of minor league action in 2019 with the Shorebirds in Single-A Delmarva. He was great, going 10-4 with a 2.68 ERA, 12.4 K-per-9 ratio (129 punchouts in 94 innings) and 0.989 WHIP. He earned a spot in the All-Star Futures Game, but there may have been doubts that he (or any minor leaguer) could keep up the progress in 2021 after the coronavirus wiped out the 2020 season.
Any doubts were quickly dispelled. In 18 starts in Bowie, Rodriguez allowed more than two runs in only four of them. Opposing hitters batted only .165 against him, and mustered only a .539 OPS. He kept his opponent off the board in six of his starts.
He also allowed two or fewer hits over five or more innings in six of the starts. In one particularly sharp start against the Erie SeaWolves, he allowed two hits in five innings while striking out 12.
Rodriguez’s success has started to make national waves. He’s now the eighth-ranked prospect in all of baseball, and is the top-ranked pitcher. And if you think he’s not aware of what he brings to the mound - well, think again.
“I put myself as the best pitcher in the minor leagues,” he told the Baltimore Sun. “Now, what other people think, that’s up to them. … But for me, I’ve got to go out and prove that each time. I can’t take anything - I can’t take it easy or anything like that and just go out and expect the results.”
He has the arsenal to back it up. Rodriguez is a pure power pitcher, with a fastball he can get up to 99 miles per hour, according to his scouting report at MLB.com. And even better, it’s a fastball with consistent sink to it, which plays well at a park in Camden Yards that tends to punish pitchers who let the ball stray up in the zone.
According to the report, he’s developed his changeup into becoming his best off-speed pitch, one with good spin and a north-to-south motion. His slider and curveball are solid pitches as well, with his slider being a pitch with which he can finish hitters off.
If there are pressures and stresses that come with having the expectations of a win-starved franchise on your back, Rodriguez hasn’t indicated as much. He’s been the team’s brightest mound prospect since his arrival, and the arrow has only climbed upward as he’s flourished each step of the way.
So now the question becomes when Rodriguez will make his way to Baltimore. MLB.com has his ETA at 2022, which would be a quick ascension. Even after two excellent seasons in the minor leagues, Rodriguez was drafted out of high school, and such prospects typically require a little longer seasoning process than those taken out of college. At the same time, however, Seattle’s Jarred Kelenic (sixth overall) and San Diego’s Ryan Weathers (seventh), were high schoolers taken ahead of Rodriguez, and they’ve gotten the call.
So Rodriguez could be up in no time, either to start the season or midway through the year. The Rodriguez-Rutschman battery will soon be together in Baltimore, and if he takes to the majors the way he has to the minors, Rodriguez will give suffering Orioles fans something to cheer for.
Previous 2021 Orioles prospect reviews: Ryan McKenna, Alexander Wells, Brnovich/Peek/Pinto, Diaz/Bannon, Tyler Nevin, Vavra/Ortiz/Servideo, Zac Lowther, DL Hall/Rom, Hernandez/Basallo, Jahmai Jones, Hudson Haskin, Bradish/Smith, Hernaiz/Mayo, Cowser/Norby, Adam Hall, Kyle Stowers, Mike Baumann, Jordan Westburg, Gunnar Henderson
Tomorrow: Adley Rutschman