While fans are hoping, maybe even expecting to see some version of Major League Baseball in 2020, play on the farm is less certain. But the O’s No. 2 ranked prospect, behind only Adley Rutschman, is doing his best to prepare, he told me during a video interview this week.
Rodriguez said he has a small baseball field behind his house in Texas and he plays catch each day with his 12-year-old brother, Garner.
“We’ve got a bullpen back there and I have a throwing program the Orioles have us on. It’s been going great so far,” he said.
In 2018, the Orioles made Rodriguez the No. 11 overall pick in the draft. Rodriguez was a fast riser up draft boards leading up to that June. Before his senior high school season he did extensive work on his body and his pitching mechanics. The 1-2 punch elevated his draft stock. What was most important in that improvement?
“I think mechanics,” Rodriguez said. “I was a completely different pitcher from my junior year of high school to my senior year. I got a pitching coach down in Houston, his name is David Evans. He works with a lot of pro guys in the offseason. I saw him the offseason before my senior year and we fixed a few things and tweaked a few things. I was able to use my legs more to unleash my power a little more in my delivery and it really showed.”
At the same time, in advance of that senior season, Rodriguez worked out at Athletes Performance Enhancement Center (APEC) in Tyler, Texas, to improve his body.
“During high school I worked out there two or three times a week,” Rodriguez said. “Now I work out there every day. It’s just a top-of-the-line facility. Patrick Mahomes works out there. A lot of NFL players and MLB players as well that are from east Texas.”
Rodriguez told me he might be pitching at Texas A&M right now and not in pro ball, had he not made those improvements before his senior season that moved him up in the draft.
“Where I was looking at getting drafted I was probably going to go to school at Texas A&M,” said Rodriguez, who said he believed he was going to be selected anywhere from the third to the fifth round before he improved himself and moved up.
But off to pro ball Rodriguez went after he signed with the Orioles about a week after that 2018 draft. Last year for Single-A Delmarva he went 10-4 with an ERA of 2.68. Held to 94 innings, Rodriguez gave up just 57 hits and only four homers with 36 walks and 129 strikeouts. He was a mid-season and postseason All-Star in the South Atlantic League.
Rodriguez’s name appears on all the top 100 prospects lists. This offseason, he was ranked No. 29 by FanGraphs.com, No. 35 by Baseball America, No. 36 by MLBPipeline.com and No. 45 by Baseball Prospectus.
Rodriguez was the co-winner of the Jim Palmer Award with right-hander Michael Baumann after last season as one of the O’s Minor League Pitchers of the Year. Also, last summer he got to meet and spend some time with Palmer.
“You know I was a little star struck at first,” he said of meeting No. 22. “Getting to meet a Hall of Fame pitcher and an Oriole legend. It was really cool, kind of breathtaking. For him to know your name and know who you are. And it was definitely cool to share that award. Mike had a great season.”
If you watch this interview to the end, you’ll hear Rodriguez talk about the person in his life who has helped the most in keeping him grounded and humble. It might surprise you.