More hardware for Grayson Rodriguez, plus other notes

More honors were announced Wednesday for the Orioles' top two prospects, catcher Adley Rutschman and pitcher Grayson Rodriguez. They keep adding hardware after each had very strong full seasons after missing minor league game action for the 2020 season due to the pandemic.

Rodriguez was named the Pitcher of the Year for the Double-A Northeast and Rutschman was named the No. 1 major league prospect in the league. Both also made the league's postseason All-Star team. Earlier, they were ranked among the best prospects in that loaded league by Baseball America, with Rutschman rated No. 1 and Rodriguez No. 4, behind only Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene.

The Orioles previously named Rodriguez the Jim Palmer Award winner as their Minor League Pitcher of the Year and Rutschman the co-winner of the Brooks Robinson Award as Minor League Player of the Year with Kyle Stowers. named Rodriguez the No. 1 pitching prospect of the year across all minor league levels.

So, yeah, these two are pretty good with the rankings, stats, honors and reputations to prove it.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Rodriguez-Throws-Bowie-White-Sidebar.jpgIn its write-up of Rodriguez for its Double-A Northeast top prospects article, Baseball America noted that most managers had Rodriguez as best starter in that league ahead of the Nationals' Cade Cavalli. Scouts said that he has a floor of a No. 2 starter and that, at his best, Rodriguez could be a future ace.

"He can pitch as a big leaguer right now," one National League scout told Baseball America. "He has four pitches that are plus or better, and he knows what he's doing with them and can locate them. When he's on, he's going to dominate the game. And when he's not, he can still out-stuff hitters."

Rodriguez went 9-1 with a 2.36 ERA in 23 regular-season starts, making five with high Single-A Aberdeen early this year before his move to Double-A. With Bowie, he went 6-1 with a 2.60 ERA over 79 2/3 innings with 22 walks, 121 strikeouts and a 0.87 WHIP. He gave up one earned run or zero in 17 of his 23 starts.

Cody Roberts caught Rodriguez this season at both Aberdeen and Bowie, and also caught him in 2019 at low Single-A Delmarva. Roberts thought one particular secondary pitch made big strides this season.

"I think his changeup has been phenomenal this year," Roberts told me in a late-season interview. "I don't ever remember it being bad, but I just think he has done a really, really good job locating it and having confidence throwing it from strike to ball essentially. Bottom of the zone and it fades off. He throws it to both right and left and it plays to both. It's got good movement too. He's done a really good job developing that this year."

Bowie manager Buck Britton appreciated what Rodriguez did for his team both on and off the field.

"The on-field stuff, obviously he's got a lot of talent, a lot of God-given ability," Britton said during the Double-A Northeast playoffs. "But the moments that are special are the stuff that happens in the clubhouse. Just him as a human being, how good of a kid he is.

"The energy that he brings, even when he is not pitching. He's a very fun guy to be around. But the competitor really shows up every five or six days when it's his turn to pitch. He wants to win, but more importantly, he wants his teammates to succeed, too, and that's a special quality for a kid like that."

Rutschman led all O's farm players in plate appearances this year with 543 between Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk. Stowers was second with 530. Robert Neustrom with 518 and Jordan Westburg with 506 were the only other players on the O's farm to get 500 or more in 2021.

"It was a goal of mine coming into the season to stay healthy," Rutschman said recently at Camden Yards when he came to pick up his Brooks Robinson Award. "And I'd like to think that is a result of offseason work and staying in shape. Also just doing little things day in and day out to make sure I could be 100 percent ready to play every single day. That's been a huge positive and a huge win, I think. And I'm very fortunate to stay healthy this year and hopefully continue to stay healthy. Knock on wood, yeah, there you go."

Rutschman said that fans have talked to him often this season about his group of players being the one to bring consistent winning back to Camden Yards.

"Yeah, I mean we always talk about winning, winning together," Rutschman said. "And having a group of guys around us like I was talking about earlier that enjoy each other's company, are playing for each other and enjoy winning. It is definitely something to look forward to. I'm very excited to continue to progress and create relationships with the guys around me and just hopefully continue to work together."

In his 80 games at Double-A, Rutschman hit .271/.392/.508/.901 with 16 doubles, 18 homers, 61 runs and 55 RBIs for the Baysox. He finished second in that league in OBP, fourth in slugging and third in OPS.

Baseball America ranks Rutschman as the No. 1 prospect in its top 100 with Rodriguez at No. 7. rates the duo No. 1 and No. 8, respectively, but Rodriguez is the highest-rated pitcher by both outlets.

Breaking ground on the international front: On Wednesday, the Orioles broke ground on their new, 22.5-acre state-of-the-art training academy in Guerra, Dominican Republic.

Joined by Dominican Republic president Luis Abinader, Dominican Republic minister of sports Francisco Camacho Rivas and DR commissioner of baseball Junior Noboa, Orioles chairman and CEO John Angelos, executive vice President and general manager Mike Elias and senior director of international scouting Koby Perez were among numerous dignitaries in attendance to celebrate the event hosted by the Orioles.

The facility will include three full fields, a sports turfed agility field, batting and pitching tunnels, administrative buildings, dormitories and educational facilities. Once complete, the complex will house over 100 players, coaches and staff, providing dormitory style rooms and entertainment spaces. It will include three classrooms and a computer lab, which will provide on-site learning and an education plan for each player.

"We have made tremendous strides over the last couple of years in establishing our international presence and revamping our baseball operations infrastructure, and this project may be the most momentous step yet," Elias said. "International scouting and player development are critical to the future success of the Orioles, and baseball as a whole. This new academy will be the Latin American home of the Orioles, and once completed we expect it to be one of the finest training facilities in the Dominican."

"This partnership group continues to execute the long-term plan announced in the fall of 2018 to invest and reinvest in baseball facilities, technology, front office research and expertise, and player talent," said Angelos. "Our organization's capital commitment to the Dominican Republic is yet another demonstration of our confident long view of the value of MLB, Orioles, and Camden Yards brand platforms. As we continue to invest and give back across Maryland and Florida, we see this as another opportunity to make a difference internationally in the Dominican community as we strengthen the future of Orioles baseball."

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