Buy the bats, grow the arms. That’s what they say. Whether or not the Orioles spend money on hitters remains to be seen, but the club certainly has a few pitchers growing on the farm.
The dynamic duo of Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall dominate the pitching side of Baltimore’s prospect headlines. Both project as frontline starters, and both have the stuff to get there.
Paul Folkemer provided insight into Hall earlier this week. The 22-year-old (Hall, not Paul) throws harder than nearly every left-handed starter in the bigs, and complements the heater with a quality changeup and pair of breaking balls. It’s easy to get excited about that.
Rodriguez may not be left handed, but the hype is there. Rodriguez slots in two spots ahead of Hall in MLB.com’s top 30 Orioles prospects. The thought of the two battling for the title of “Orioles’ ace” is enough to bring a smile after any loss to the Yankees.
Baltimore selected the 6-foot-5 righty with the number 11 pick in the 2018 draft. The Texas high school product now appears to be a steal at that spot. MLB.com currently ranks Rodriguez as the 23rd best prospect in all of baseball.
Rodriguez got his feet wet with nine short appearances for Baltimore’s Gulf Coast team in 2018, but took things to another level in his first full season. The Central Heights alum spent all of 2019 at Delmarva where he posted top prospect numbers.
Rodriguez started the season with a 6-0 record through his first eight starts. He made 20 appearances in total and pitched to a 10-4 record with a 2.68 ERA. Rodriguez struck out 129 batters over 94 innings and walked just 36. He posted a 0.989 WHIP and allowed four home runs all year.
The strikeout-to-walk ratio provides him the edge over Hall. Hall struggled with control in 2019 at High-A Frederick and walked 54 batters over 80.2 innings.
Scouts give Rodriguez another edge over Hall because of his age. Rodriguez will be 21 for the duration of the 2021 season, but he possesses a feel for pitching beyond his years. Hall will likely begin the year at Double-A Bowie, and there is a chance Rodriguez joins him with the Baysox. Rodriguez may start the season with now High-A Aberdeen, but he would not stay long. Both prospects could arrive in Baltimore at some point in 2022.
MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo ranked Rodriguez as the seventh best right handed pitching prospect right now, but also tabbed Rodriguez as the prospect with the highest ceiling. Mayo also ranked Rodriguez’s changeup among the best offspeed pitches from the group.
Fangraph’s David Laurila spoke at length with Rodriguez about his changeup back in February. The interview takes a deep dive into his grip, the spin rate, and whether or not the pitch can be classified as a screwball. The piece also confirms Baltimore’s dedication to advanced technology and baseball analytics.
“The way I like to attack with my fastball sets up my changeup well, how it moves and what it looks like out of my hand. As I’ve learned how to throw it with TrackMan and Edgertronic cameras, I’ve figured out a way to get the ball to spin exactly how I want it to. Those things have really helped me, because my changeup is different from a lot of other guys’. It’s almost like a screwball.”
Rodriguez goes on to insist the pitch differs from a screwball, but does have screwball action. He manipulates the pitch by keeping the same grip, but varying his hand and wrist action.
“It’s just a regular circle change. It’s a two-seam circle, and I hold it at the top of the horseshoe. If you can imagine where the seams are the closest, that’s where my middle finger and my ring finger are. Then I have the circle on the side.
I like to feel the seam on my middle finger. I’m able to rip down off of that, in order to get more spin on the ball. How I think about it… in my head, I’m throwing the changeup with only my middle finger. I’m pulling the trigger like you would on a gun.”
Rodriguez tells Laurila that the Orioles asked him to hone his changeup prior to the 2019 season. Rodriguez worked with Justin Ramsey and Chris Holt with the help of slow-motion cameras to develop the pitch.
The length and detail Rodriguez uses in the interview represents his advanced understanding of pitching, and the plethora of methods Baltimore uses to aid pitching development.
The Orioles included Rodriguez in their player pool at the alternate site in Bowie last year. He averaged 95 MPH with the fastball, hitting as high as 99, and worked in a plus slider and curveball on top of the change.
Rodriguez still has plenty to prove in the high minors, but there is no reason to temper expectations. He looks like the real deal. Rodriguez, Hall and top prospect Adley Rutschman all appear on track for a 2022 debut. The trio’s development will go a long way in determining whether winning is “strategically relevant” again in Baltimore, and Rodriguez has an opportunity to lead the charge.