What’s next?: Can Grayson Rodriguez repeat his strong 2019?

So what can 20-year-old right-hander Grayson Rodriguez do for an encore? In 2019, he had a great season for Single-A Delmarva, pitched a scoreless inning in the All-Star Futures Game and ended his year as co-winner of the Jim Palmer Award as the Orioles Minor League Pitcher of the Year.

Rodriguez, who shared that award with right-hander Michael Baumann, went 10-4 with an ERA of 2.68 for the Shorebirds. Held to 94 innings, Rodriguez gave up just 57 hits and only four homers with 36 walks and 129 strikeouts.

Rodriguez was a mid-season and postseason All-Star in the South Atlantic League and is expected to move up to the Single-A Frederick rotation. It should provide a nice challenge for the player the Orioles drafted No. 11 overall in 2018.

Lefty DL Hall went 2-7 with a 2.10 ERA when he was in the South Atlantic League in 2018. The poor won-loss record came about only because he didn’t often pitch enough innings to qualify for a win. Hall had a WHIP of 1.17 and an average against of .203 at Delmarva. Last year, Rodriguez had an 0.99 WHIP and .171 average against. Hall moved up to Frederick and posted an ERA of 3.46 and WHIP of 1.33.

Rodriguez’s name appears on all the top 100 prospects lists. He was ranked No. 29 by FanGraphs.com, No. 35 by Baseball America, No. 36 by MLBPipeline.com and No. 45 by Baseball Prospectus.

Nice recognition, but nothing he will spend much time focusing on.

Rodriguez-Follow-Thru-Shorebirds-Sidebar.jpg“While it is great, I kind of think prospects lists are just kind of labels,” Rodriguez said. “To a player, they don’t really mean much. It’s nice to be acknowledged, but in the end, it’s really up to what you can do on the field. If you pay too much attention to those, you’ll get caught up in that and it will show.”

He spent his winter back at the Athlete Performance Enhancement Center in Tyler, Texas. That was where he trained leading into the draft.

Those workouts and training helped him deal with his first year of full-season pro ball with the Shorebirds.

“Definitely. I kind of know more what to expect,” he said. “Full-season baseball, I think of it as a marathon, not a sprint. I came out and had a great April in Delmarva. Kind of ran into some bumps in the road there toward the middle of the year, but then picked it back up in the end.”

During an interview in November, O’s director of pitching Chris Holt spoke with me about Rodriguez.

“His focus level, his work ethic and maturity at his age - those are all really strong attributes that contribute to his quality of work, his preparation, his performances,” Holt said. “We saw him consistently go out and be the same guy. When it comes to the stuff, it’s very good and we know that, and his command is quite good and we know that and continuing to improve.

“All the things that go into what we like about him - he just brings so many things to the table that give him the chance to be an impact guy at the big league level. I always say this: Nolan Ryan never stopped learning or trying to get better. Same with (Roger) Clemens and (Justin) Verlander now are the same way. It takes that mindset to approach your work no matter how good you are and never be satisfied with being good. (Rodriguez) works to be excellent with everything he does.”

Along those lines, Rodriguez expressed a big desire to further hone his changeup and breaking pitches in 2020.

“Want to throw more strikes with them,” he said during the Birdland Caravan. “Throwing more strikes is something you can always improve on, especially with off-speed pitches. Sometimes they are strike pitches and sometimes they are chase pitches. Being able to throw anything in any kind of situations.”

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