While we await further news about any additions the Orioles might make for their starting rotation, we can also take a minute to let this news sink in: It is news we’ve known for a while, but baseball’s top pitching prospect in right-hander Grayson Rodriguez is set to make his major league debut in 2023.
He very likely could break north with the Orioles for Opening Day after a strong but injury-interrupted season. It’s Grayson time for the pitcher who turned 23 last month, a month when he was added to the 40-man roster for the first time.
It was on June 1 last season, while pitching for Triple-A Norfolk, that Rodriguez seemed poised to make his big league debut. It could be coming at any time, we thought then. But it was then that he walked off the mound in the sixth inning with what we would later learn was a Grade 2 right lat strain.
The injury would rob him of about three months of his season, but at least he made it back healthy to pitch on the farm in September, and now he has Baltimore in his sights after the 40-man ascension.
“Obviously, it’s an honor to get put on anybody’s 40-man, especially ours,” Rodriguez said last month. “So, pretty excited, pretty pumped up for it. Can’t wait for spring training. And really just looking forward to what this year has in store. Just getting back out there and throwing the baseball.”
In 17 starts in 2022, the O’s No. 11 overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft went 6-2 with a 2.62 ERA, missing time between June 1 and Sept. 1 with the injury. Over a combined 75 2/3 innings he walked 28, fanned 109, posted a 0.99 WHIP and a .176 batting average against. In 14 starts at Triple-A only, he went 6-1 with a 2.20 ERA and was a postseason International League All-Star.
At times during his O’s career, Rodriguez has seemed almost too good to be true, and I mean in his entire game and makeup, not just his pitching talent. In addition to throwing a high-90s fastball with some outstanding secondaries, he’s always been very coachable, with a big body and smooth delivery. And, others tell us, a great teammate. He seems very relaxed and poised for someone in such a prospect spotlight since the day they selected him from a high school in Nacogdoches, Texas.
Triple-A Norfolk manager Buck Britton knows Rodriguez about as well as anyone on the Baltimore farm, managing him in Double-A and Triple-A. Early last year he told me there was so much to like about the youngster. And that he was a pitcher who offers so much more than a lightning bolt of a right arm.
"Saw it 100 percent,” Britton said. “In my playing days I was able to go to enough major league spring trainings and be around some really good players, and there are some guys that stood out that I compare him to. One of the guys is (Clayton) Kershaw, and this is just in reference to game day. It's a different man that steps into the clubhouse on game day than that's been there the last three or four days.
"He's been preparing, but when it comes to game day, Grayson kind of flips a switch. He's a great clubhouse guy, tons of energy. But I think the focus kind of really ticks up on game day and he's out to prove something.
"But he's a great teammate, huge energy, roots for his teammates to succeed, and that's another special quality in somebody."
One of the biggest and best things for Birdland to look forward to next year is Rodriguez’s debut at the big league level.
He sure looked very, very ready before the injury last June. Will he have instant success with the Orioles or will there be some growing pains? How does his repertoire play in the bigs? Where will he slot in the rotation?
All interesting questions to ponder. But for now at least, when it comes to the Orioles' hottest pitching prospect, the wait is over.