Seven of the first 10 picks in the 2018 draft were position players, just as the Orioles anticipated. They knew there would be no shortage of pitching at their disposal.
They had lots of appealing options with University of Florida right-hander Brady Singer, prep left-hander Matthew Liberatore, prep right-hander Cole Winn and South Florida lefty Shane McClanahan on the board. The industry was thrown a curve with the announcement that the Orioles selected right-hander Grayson Rodriguez of Central Heights High School in Nacogdoches, Texas.
Rodriguez’s stock was soaring, with scouts lauding his improved conditioning, more consistent mechanics, a fastball that sat in the mid-90s and touched 97-98, and an improved slider and bendy curveball. Baseball America rated him as the No. 24 prospect in the draft. MLBPipeline.com had him 22nd, and 13th among pitchers.
An article posted by SB Nation included how “it doesn’t take much imagination to see him as a future number two starter.”
The Orioles are thinking higher, with Rodriguez now rated as the top pitching prospect in baseball.
His dominance in 2021 is splattered across stat sheets. The 9-1 record, 2.36 ERA, 0.825 WHIP, .159 average against and 161 strikeouts in 103 innings between Single-A Aberdeen and Double-A Bowie. Fifty-two professional games have produced a 2.41 ERA, 0.934 WHIP, 12.9 strikeouts and 0.6 home runs allowed per nine innings and a .172 average against.
But what isn’t shown, and this is learned through conversations with coaches and teammates, is makeup that’s also rated as plus.
You want a respected leader and example-setter atop the rotation.
Asked about Rodriguez during a recent conversation, pitching coach Josh Conway, who worked in Aberdeen last summer, skipped the numbers and went directly to the intangibles.
“Grayson, I’m sure you get this a lot, but not only did he do really well on the field, but as a clubhouse guy and as a teammate he was a great character guy to have,” Conway said. “He comes to work, does his work every day, is a hard worker, gets after it. He wants to be a big leaguer, right? As all these guys do. So, for him to set that tone for the whole clubhouse was nice to have.”
The Orioles gave Rodriguez, who committed to Texas A&M, a $4.3 million signing bonus. Slot value was $4.3751 million.
Catcher Adley Rutschman, baseball’s No. 1 prospect, should be catching Rodriguez later this summer after beating him to Baltimore. Rodriguez first must get to Triple-A.
MLBPipeline.com ranks Rodriguez as the No. 8 prospect in baseball, Liberatore 47th and Winn 60th.
Singer, chosen with the 18th overall pick by the Royals, made his debut in 2020 and is 9-15 with a 4.62 ERA and 1.422 WHIP in 39 starts. McClanahan, a Baltimore native taken 31st overall by the Rays, debuted last summer and finished seventh in American League Rookie of the Year voting after going 10-6 with a 3.43 ERA and 1.273 WHIP in 25 starts. He struck out 141 batters in 123 1/3 innings.
McClanahan went 4-0 with a 2.74 ERA in four starts against the Orioles.
They’re still fine with their own selection.
“Obviously, we know what he can do on the field,” Conway said. “He’s got great pitches, a great mentality, goes after hitters, good stuff. All of that. Just a really, really all-around good guy to have on your team.”
Notes: In case you missed some details from yesterday’s Zoom call with Mike Elias and Sig Mejdal:
The Orioles are moving back the left field seats 26 1/2 feet and raising the fence to 13 feet from the foul pole to the home bullpen. Approximately 1,000 seats will be removed and become part of a future charitable event.
Elias said the club wants to bring the dimensions closer to the league norm, noting how Camden Yards has been one of the most extreme home run parks in baseball. The changes will be a “significant step toward neutrality.”
The team talked with coaches and current and former players about the proposed changes.
Signing free agent pitchers could be easier with fewer balls flying into the left field seats.
“We still expect that this will remain somewhat of a hitter’s park and we like that about Camden Yards. But the conditions here have been very extreme, toward the very most extreme in the league,” Elias said.
“It’s not a secret, it’s been the case for decades. And part of having a winning program is the ability to recruit free agent pitchers and that has been a historical challenge for this franchise. There is just no way around that. I do think this will help going forward.”
Said Mejdal: “If you look at many of the third-party sites that have more than half a decade of data, Camden Yards is No. 1 or No. 2. We’re privy to some of the Statcast data, so we can model it a bit better than the third parties. And we’re seeing that this an extreme home run park. If not the most, then the second-most, and for right-handed batters, it seems clear this is the most extreme home run park. As Mike said, that doesn’t do the team any favors and we wanted to take a significant step toward neutrality.
“Retrospectively, we can see what these changes would have done over the last half decade and the effect it would have. But going forward, I don’t want to give the specifics, but we expect this to be a significant step toward neutrality.”
No changes are currently planned for the Ed Smith Stadium complex in Sarasota.
* The international signing period begins today and Baseball America’s Ben Badler has the Orioles linked to the following players:
Braylin Tavera, OF, Dominican Republic
Leandro Arias, SS, Dominican Republic
Cesar Prieto, 2B, Cuba
Edwin Amparo, SS, Dominican Republic
Update: The Orioles signed 24 international players, led by 16-year-old Dominican outfielder Braylin Tavera, who received a club-record $1.7 million bonus. Tavera is ranked as the No. 18 international prospect by Baseball America and No. 22 by MLBPipeline.com.
The Orioles included the following in their release:
“Tavera is one of the most well-rounded players in this year’s signing class, with five-tool potential. He showcases strong bat-to-ball skills and a consistent approach at the plate, which is backed by his improving pitch recognition. His speed and emerging power are additional assets to his repertoire, and defensively he profiles in center field.”
Other high-profile signings include Cuban infielder César Prieto, 22, who received $650,000, and Dominican shortstop Leandro Arias, 16, who received $600,000.
Prieto is projected to begin his Orioles career at a mid-to-high affiliate based on his age, experience and production.
Dominican shortstop Edwin Amparo, 17, signed for $650,000 and Dominican outfielder Thomas Sosa for $400,000. The Orioles, who had a bonus pool of $6,262,600, say that 10 others received six-figure bonuses.
Of the 24 total agreements, 12 are from the Dominican Republic, 10 from Venezuela, and one each from Cuba and Panama.
“For the third-straight year we are excited about the talented individuals that are joining the organization,” Koby Perez, the Orioles’ senior director of international scouting, said in a statement.
“It was another challenging year with the unique circumstances and protocols, and I couldn’t be prouder of how our staff adjusted and excelled. With the exciting news this year of a new, state-of-the-art academy being built, and the progress the last two classes have already made, the continued construction of our international pipeline will only benefit the organization and eventually the Major League club moving forward.”
Perez also said the Orioles have spent their full allotment of bonus pool money.
“As you guys know, we’ve been here three years, so these signings that we’re signing today, we’ve been working with them and their agents for three years, so that is the reason why we’ve been able to go a little bit toward the top of the signing classes, and future years we’ll continue to do that,” he said on a Zoom call.
“It takes time to be able to get these players to commit to us and we’ve been working on these players for two or three years now, so fortunately we promoted that we’re opening an academy (in the Dominican). The agents have realized that we’re with the Latin American talent and they’ve been very receptive to the Orioles, so we’ve been able to get some talented players.”