When the Orioles are mired in a ten-game losing streak, it takes a lot for something to be exciting enough to break through that malaise. Mike Elias delivered that excitement on Friday morning, when he announced on the radio that top O’s pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez, currently assigned to High-A Aberdeen, will be making his next start at Double-A Bowie.
Rodriguez has spent the first month of the minor league season playing the role of Trogdor to the rest of the High-A East’s peasants. There was a lot of burnination. The O’s have been keeping their pitching prospects on a tight pitch count, but even with that, Rodriguez has struck out 40 batters over 23.1 innings in five starts. Along with that came a WHIP of 0.686 and an ERA of 1.54. He has been better than those guys. Now he’ll be facing more advanced guys.
For a player who was a first round pick out of the high school ranks in the 2018 draft, Double-A is the level where Rodriguez is “supposed” to be by now. His High-A assignment reflected the O’s being cautious coming out of the lost 2020 minor league season, when Rodriguez would have been assigned to High-A. He’s been so dominant through the first month that pushing the #21 prospect in all of MLB was probably not a difficult choice.
It’s an exciting promotion for Orioles fans because you can start to imagine an optimistic scenario where Rodriguez might even push his way to serious consideration for joining the Orioles by the end of next season.
With Rodriguez’s promotion to Bowie, five of the team’s top ten prospects as rated by MLB Pipeline are now on that Double-A squad. Rodriguez will join DL Hall and Mike Baumann in the rotation, with Adley Rutschman and Terrin Vavra playing the field for that club. That’s a lot of talent. The Baysox are at home this weekend before heading on the road for the next two weeks.
Within the last week, the Orioles opened up a rotation spot at Bowie by promoting Kyle Bradish, the most advanced prospect from the Dylan Bundy trade, to Norfolk. Elias appeared on a MASN broadcast during the week and hinted that more promotions were coming, including “some big names.” Rodriguez certainly qualifies as a big name. Perhaps others will be challenged at a higher level soon as well.
A fun thing about looking at Orioles minor league numbers so far this season is that, as long as you don’t look at Norfolk, you will find a number of prospects whose performance stands out as, “Wow, that guy is doing great!”
At Delmarva, 2019 second rounder Gunnar Henderson is hitting .320/.388/.640. He would have been at Delmarva last year, had there been a season. 2020 picks Jordan Westburg (1.015 OPS) and Hudson Haskin (.932 OPS) are also excelling so far.
For Aberdeen, another Kyle from the Bundy trade, Kyle Brnovich, has a 0.612 WHIP and 1.65 ERA through his first four starts. A 2019 college pick could be at Bowie and no one would blink. He’s not a household name yet, but if the O’s choose to move him up and he keeps performing, that will get him on the radar.
Even with Bradish’s promotion, the Bowie roster still has some players who are performing well enough early on that a level bump might not be that aggressive. Rutschman is hitting .246/.441/.464 through 20 games. Maybe he needs to be at a level where they won’t walk him as often to see how he responds to that challenge. Vavra also has a great OBP: .274/.438/.516. This is his age 24 season.
Two of Rodriguez’s new rotation-mates have been excelling as well. Fellow first-rounder DL Hall, the O’s top pick in 2017, is also striking out the world over his first four starts. He’s struck out 31 batters over 16 innings, and has struck out nearly half of all batters he’s faced. Hall’s concern is command: He’s also walked eight. Kevin Smith, from the Miguel Castro trade with the Mets, has just a 1.06 ERA through four starts, but he’s walked nine in 17 innings to go along with 22 strikeouts.
Both are impressive, but both maybe needing a bit more time at Bowie to throw strikes. If Elias keeps promoting people, we’ll see who the Orioles have lined up to climb the ladder even after about a month of 2021 minor league baseball. And if we’re lucky, players challenged with higher levels will keep playing well and building excitement for their eventual MLB debuts.