Josh Michael: Early returns on Grayson Rodriguez have been favorable

I will be the first to admit, my time as an Orioles fan has made me pretty pessimistic when it comes to first-round picks being high school pitchers. Do not get me wrong, I like this year’s first-round selection of right-hander Grayson Rodriguez, and thus far he has been incredibly impressive.

Rodriguez, 18, was the O’s first round-pick (11th overall) this year out of Central Heights High School in Nacogdoches, Texas.

It came as a bit of a surprise on draft night, and not because Rodriguez wasn’t a first-round talent. But he just wasn’t one of the guys being linked to the Orioles leading up to the draft. He was ranked as the 24th-best prospect in the draft by Baseball America. The Orioles locked him up with a $4.3 million signing bonus, which was $75,100 below slot value.

Like most, if not all, high school pitchers drafted, Rodriguez will be on a very strict innings limit in his first season of professional baseball, but he has gotten into four games for the Orioles Rookie-level affiliate, the Gulf Coast League Orioles.

Rodriguez has been extremely impressive thus far. He has yet to allow a run over seven innings and has allowed just four hits in the process. He has struck out four batters and held opponents to a .167 batting average. The one hiccup for Rodriguez has been walks. He has surrendered five free passes already.

I do feel it is important to point out that three of the four hits he has allowed came in one appearance, so he has allowed one hit or fewer in three of his four outings.

Rodriguez is a big guy on the mound, listed at 6-foot-5 and 220 lbs., and has a big arm. His fastball routinely sits in the mid-90s, while Baseball America stated it can touch 97-97 mph. He also owns three other pitches with a power slider, curveball and changeup.

Since he is in the Gulf Coast League, it’s not as though he is right down the road to go watch pitch. So in these cases, I like to chat with some folks that happen to be down there in Sarasota or in the area. Whether it be a couple of scouts or a couple of friends, all of them have pretty much told me the same thing: Rodriguez has been very impressive. His fastball is legit and has a little sink to it late, as well. His breaking stuff is better than his changeup right now, but the changeup shows potential to make his arsenal a full-blown four-pitch mix.

I understand it’s four appearances and seven innings in the Gulf Coast League, and that’s certainly a small sample size against Rookie League hitters. But there is no denying that it’s better to see a first-round pick succeed early than to see him struggle. Rodriguez has certainly been impressive thus far and I can’t wait to see him next season when he will most likely be with an affiliate in the area.

Josh Michael blogs about the Orioles for Baby Birdland. Follow him on Twitter: @BabyBirdland. His opinions on the Orioles will appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s longstanding initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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