SARASOTA, Fla. - The 2018 season was pretty special for 19-year-old right-hander Grayson Rodriguez. He was taken No. 11 in round one of the draft by the Orioles, signed a large bonus, pitched well in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League and now can’t wait to see what comes next.
It will be his first full season of professional baseball and could begin with him in the rotation for Single-A Delmarva.
But first, a thought back to last year when, after he signed, he went 0-2 with a 1.40 ERA in nine GCL games. Over 19 1/3 innings he got his feet wet in pro ball, allowed 17 hits and seven walks and fanned 20.
“Man, it was unreal,” Rodriguez told me recently at Twin Lakes Park at the Buck O’Neil Baseball Complex. “From hearing my name called on TV to walking out (upon his introduction) at Camden Yards. It was an unbelievable experience. On the mound last year it was just about getting used to pro ball and learning what they do here on a daily basis. The competition is better and there is less room for error.”
Rodriguez heard his name called 11th on draft night June 4 and soon after signed for a $4.3 million bonus.
“It was pretty stressful (on draft day), and I was nervous at first. Seemed like there was about 30 minutes between picks. Finally they got to No. 11 and what I had been working for my whole life paid off,” said Rodriguez who made his pro debut July 5 and threw 12 scoreless innings to start his pro career.
Rodriguez now has to deal with the expectations and pressure of being a first-round pick. He’s ranked as the Orioles’ No. 5 prospect by both MLBPipeline.com and Baseball America.
“Just go out there and control what you can control,” he said of high expectations for him. “Try to play the best baseball you can every day and not worry about that other stuff. Put your head down and get to work,” Rodriguez said, adding he learns a lot from other older pitchers in spring training.
Rodriguez throws a fastball that often sits between 92 and 94 and touched 97 and 98 mph when he pitched as a high school senior. His fastball and slider receive 60-grade scores on the 20-80 scale from MLBPipeline.com. Rodriguez said the heater is always a key for him in attacking hitters.
“Fastball has some life on it. Try to get a little bit of hop on it, I like to throw hard. So use that to my advantage and be able to use a slider to a lefty or curveball to a righty. Changeup down and away to a lefty. On a perfect day, all those pitches are working and I can do what I want with them,” he said.
It’s the changeup that will be a focus for him this season, he said. He’s never thrown it much, until this winter.
“Worked on a changeup. That was my big emphasis. I was told I needed to work on the changeup over the offseason and that was my main goal. Now I’m ready to show it off. I very rarely threw a changeup growing up, it was just fastball, curveball, slider. Not so many changeups but will definitely throw it a lot. Every day I played catch this winter, I would play catch with that pitch as part of my daily routine.”
Rodriguez has seemingly managed at such a young age to feature the confidence of a talented youth but also a healthy respect for those that will try to beat him every fifth day.
“You still have to be self confident. That never goes away. But you also have to know who is standing in the box and know what they can do and do against your pitches. But being confident in yourself is probably the most important thing,” Rodriguez said.
O’s and Tigers today: Join me for the broadcast today at 1 p.m. on Orioles.com or the MLB At Bat app when the Orioles travel to Lakeland to play the Tigers. Now 11-11-2, the Orioles starter is right-hander Andrew Cashner.