If you could bat .500 in baseball, you would probably win a few awards and set several records. And if the Orioles can bat .500 with their top two pitching prospects, that might be impressive as well.
They dream on going 2-for-2 and producing a pair of No. 1 starters out of right-hander Grayson Rodriguez and left-hander DL Hall. But what if they turn one but not both of that duo into a No. 1 starter? Well, that would still put them ahead of most clubs. Producing an elite starter is very hard to do and a big reason why clubs both covet talented young pitching but also often have to pay top dollar for true pitching greatness.
Dominant pitchers with a track record can get huge contracts. The Washington Nationals signed free agent Max Scherzer to a seven-year deal worth $210 million in January 2015. If a team can actually get their money’s worth at that price, this deal might be it. Clayton Kershaw signed an extension with the Los Angeles Dodgers for three years and $93 million in November 2018. The Nats handed out another huge deal to right-hander Stephen Strasburg when he got seven years and $245 million in December 2019. But Gerrit Cole beat everyone with his deal with the New York Yankees in December 2019. It was for nine years and $324 million. Yep, a top pitcher can now get $300 million.
Strasburg and Kershaw were drafted by the teams they are still with. Strasburg and Cole went No. 1 overall in round one of the draft. They were 1/1 selections. You hope when you pick at the very top of the draft that you get that kind of talent. The Orioles brass might feel that way about a certain catcher.
But when the Orioles and their fans dream big - extremely big - they foresee both young prospect pitchers hitting it big and leading the rotation for years. A lefty and righty. Two young kids living up to immense hype and not just being good, but being great, at the major league level. If only one achieves that, that would still be quite a result for the Orioles. Is one of these two the next Mike Mussina, an O’s homegrown ace?
When Baseball America recently released its new top 100 prospects list, it rated Rodriguez No. 22 (up from No. 35 at the same time last year) and Hall No. 59 (he was No. 47 last year). The higher a prospect is rated, the more excitement that player can generate. But the top 100 is still the best of the best.
Now the disclaimer that fans rush to note about these lists: They are not guarantees. These players are not guaranteed to be stars or even good because they get a top 100 ranking. Yep, valid point. But if you go back over many top 100 lists over various years from major outlets like Baseball America, you can see a lot of hits along with some misses. But, yes, they are still right now just prospects and no one is Carnac the Magnificent here. Younger readers can Google it.
No one pitched in minor league games in 2020, but both of these young pitchers were part of the O’s 60-man player pool at the alternate camp at Bowie last summer when they got in valuable innings and learned by facing big league hitters and other highly rated prospects. Rodriguez turned 21 on Nov. 16 and Hall turned 22 on Sept. 19. Rodriguez is expected to pitch at high Single-A Aberdeen this season with Hall starting at Double-A Bowie.
Here is something that Rodriguez and Hall also have in common: They were both drafted as high school pitchers. That demographic is supposed to be the riskiest one for scouting directors to size up. But then-O’s scouting director Gary Rasich pulled the trigger on these pitchers in back-to-back years.
The 21st overall pick in the 2017 draft, Hall pitched at Single-A Frederick in 2019. He went 4-5 with a 3.46 ERA in 19 games. Over 80 2/3 innings, Hall allowed 53 hits with 54 walks and 116 strikeouts. He allowed a .189 average against and had a 1.33 WHIP. And just like when he was with Single-A Delmarva in 2018, he got better as the year went on with the Keys. In July and August of 2019, he was 2-2 with a 2.25 ERA and 43 strikeouts to 16 walks in 32 innings.
Taken No. 11 overall in the 2018 draft, Rodriguez was named the O’s co-Minor League Pitcher of the Year by the end of the 2019 season, sharing the honor with Michael Baumann. During that season at Single-A Delmarva, he went he went 10-4 with a 2.68 ERA. 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.
The last time we saw an All-Star Futures Game - in July 2019 in Cleveland - this pair represented the Orioles.
They both pitched scoreless innings. Hall rolled through a 1-2-3 third inning, touching 97 and 98 mph. And he even continued to pitch after a broken bat struck him on the left leg and knocked him to the ground.
Rodriguez came on with a man on second and no one out in the eighth and got a groundout, a flyout and a groundout for the American League to hold a 2-2 tie. The game ended with that tied score. It was an impressive day for the O’s young pitching prospects.
If you want to go from the Futures Game to discussing the O’s future and their rebuilding efforts, this duo will have a lot to say about it. If they are both top-of-rotation starters for the Orioles, they could be key contributors to years to winning teams.
But there is always that bigger dream - that one or both hit it real big.
New rankings: MLBPipeline.com released its new top prospects 100 list last night. Orioles catching prospect Adley Rutschman is No. 2 behind only Wander Franco of Tampa Bay. Rodriguez is rated No. 27 with Heston Kjerstad, the club’s 2020 top pick, at No. 69, Hall at No. 70 and Ryan Mountcastle at No. 77. The O’s have five players on this list after getting four in the initial release last winter.
Earlier Thursday, Keith Law released his latest top 100 list, this time writing it for The Athletic. He ranks Rutschman No. 6, Hall No. 49, Rodriguez No. 55 and Kjerstad No. 85. Click here for that list (subscription required).