How he arrived: Drafted with the 11th overall pick in 2018; contract selected 11/5/2022
Grayson Rodriguez became a household name amongst Orioles fans when the Birds selected him with their top pick in 2018. Rodriguez now represents former general manager Dan Duquette’s final gift to the Birds.
Current GM Mike Elias has resisted any temptation to select pitchers in the top rounds of the draft. Elias has referenced the high-bust potential of pitching prospects and the importance of Baltimore hitting with early picks. He also had the benefit of inheriting Rodriguez, DL Hall and Drew Rom.
Rodriguez has developed under the Elias regime and currently ranks as the top pitching prospect in baseball. He appeared destined to make his major league debut last June before suffering a Grade 2 lat strain while pitching for the Norfolk Tides. Rodriguez missed three months but completed rehab assignments with Aberdeen and Bowie before making three starts for Norfolk in September.
Now healthy, Rodriguez falls into the nothing left to prove category on the farm. The Orioles added Rodriguez to the 40-man roster last month before the Rule 5 draft, and he will enter spring training as a favorite to break camp with the team.
The 23-year-old finished last season with a 6-2 record and 2.62 ERA in 17 appearances. He struck out 109 batters compared to 28 walks, and posted a 0.991 WHIP across three levels. The righty surrendered only two home runs in 75.2 innings.
The numbers have been there from the start, and Rodriguez appears fully ready to face major league competition. He consistently works in the high 90s with an impressive four pitch mix. Rodriguez fits the molds as a top of the rotation starter on a playoff team, and the Orioles expect him to be that guy.
The Orioles added Kyle Gibson on a one year deal, but have yet to make a play for any of the top free agents. The winter meetings have come and gone, and so have a majority of the top available arms. If the Orioles hope to improve their rotation next season, they appear to be banking on Rodriguez to provide the most significant bump.
The Houston native might just be up to the task. Baltimore will likely saddle Rodriguez with some form of a work limit, but it’s difficult to picture a rotation that does not include the rookie at this point. John Means will miss the beginning of the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery last April.
Dean Kremer, Austin Voth, Kyle Bradish and Tyler Wells all showed flashes last year, while DL Hall and Mike Baumann worked mostly in relief. Hall, a top pick in 2017, and Rodriguez were once considered a two-headed monster within Baltimore’s system, but Hall’s command struggles have left some uncertain if he could work consistently in the rotation.
Rodriguez, on the other hand, has completely lived up to his potential in the minor leagues. He will face adversity and be forced to adjust like every other rookie, but his reputation as a dedicated, high-character and strong teammate all indicate a willingness to put in the work. Rodriguez should also benefit from a reunion with battery mate Adley Rutschman.
Lucas Giolito, the top pitching prospect in 2016, posted 10-13 record with a 6.13 ERA in his first full season with the White Sox in 2018. He was named an All Star the following season. Alex Reyes, the top pitching prospect in 2017, made an immediate impact for the Cardinals before undergoing Tommy John. He was named an All Star in 2021 as a reliever but missed all of last season with another injury.
Shohei Ohtani ranked as the top starter in 2018 and we all know how that worked out. Forrest Whitley has faced injuries after ranking as the top hurler in 2019 and Mackenzie Gore (No. 5 overall in 2020) posted a 0.2 WAR and 4.50 ERA in 16 appearances last season.
Rodriguez appears poised to take the league by storm, but he will likely face a few lumps in the AL East. The Orioles will do everything they can to protect their young arm and make sure he has every opportunity to develop, but his performance next season will be impossible to predict.
It should be fun to watch, though.
Up next: Drew Rom