Stepping up his game: Grayson Rodriguez moves to Double-A and keeps rolling

Orioles pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez has moved up the top 100 rankings to become the top-rated pitching prospect in baseball the old-fashioned way: He earned it.

Rodriguez started the year dealing for high Single-A Aberdeen and went 3-0 with a 1.54 ERA in five starts. Then he got promoted to Double-A Bowie, where he is now 2-0 with a 0.90 ERA in two starts, allowing one run and six hits over 10 innings.

So for seven starts on the year, the 21-year-old right-hander is 5-0 with a 1.35 ERA that ranks 10th in all of the minors among qualified pitchers. As of yesterday, he was one of five pitchers in all of the minors with five wins. Over 33 1/3 innings, he has given up 17 hits with nine walks and 54 strikeouts. He has a WHIP of 0.78 and a batting average against of .148. He has allowed one run or less in seven of seven starts. His 14.58 strikeout rate per nine innings is 16th in the minors and his strikeout percentage of 42.5 ranks seventh-best.

So he moved up a level and kept rolling big time.

Bowie pitching coach Justin Ramsey was also Rodriguez’s pitching coach when he was dominant for low Single-A Delmarva in 2019. Ramsey also worked with him last summer at the alternate camp site at Bowie.

Rodriguez-Delmarva-Camo-Front-sidebar.jpg“I think the thing that is most impressive about Grayson is that he’s not different (from 2019),” said Ramsey. “It’s the same dedication, the same great personality. He wants to be better every day. Nothing has changed because he had some success on the field. He knows where he is trying to go and what it is going to take and he works every day with a plan.

“If anything, that is what has changed. He’s got a better idea and better focus to his work from the experience he had at the alternate site (last summer), working with the veterans that were around and the staff. To see him take that and run with it has been entertaining and very impressive. For a 21-year-old to have that success and not be satisfied with it has been really impressive.”

The No. 11 overall pick in the 2018 draft, selected by then-O’s scouting director Gary Rajsich, Rodriguez got game experience in 2019 and another kind of experience with no actual games last year. Both made him better.

“Getting out there in the games in ‘19 and having that experience was big,” said Ramsey. “You are always going to learn from the games, both success and failure. In 2020, he was able to come in and really see what it was going to take. In 2019, he could kind of out-stuff guys and we saw sometimes where it didn’t matter where he threw it, they weren’t really going to hit it. A credit to his ability.

“To show up in ‘20 and see what it was like with Triple-A, big league guys and top prospects that were there, and see what happens when you make some of those mistakes you get away with in A-ball. And having to mix your plan and learn how to apply that, to be able to do that without having the penalty of your mistakes going on the back of your baseball card (was a benefit). He can go and try to throw that full count changeup to the same guy that got a hit off a full count fastball earlier. If he walks him, who cares? Because it is purely about development. To really not have results there, you can let yourself experiment more and now we are starting to see what he has been able to do with those experiments back in games again. You can really see him start to have that focus and attack plan and how to apply work he had in ‘19 and ‘20.”

Rodriguez is throwing his fastball mid-to-upper 90s and has touched 100 mph this year. He also has a cutter he can throw, but doesn’t use it much yet along with a slider, curveball and changeup. His changeup is now a strong consideration as his best secondary pitch.

“It’s hard to argue that it’s not. I’d say it’s either the slider or changeup. They are both really good, but you could make an argument his changeup is his best off-speed and no one would say you’re wrong,” said Ramsey.

Rodriguez is piling up awards already this season. He was named the High-A East Pitcher of the Month for May and also the Orioles Minor League Pitcher of the Month for May after his great five-start run with Aberdeen.

He is surely pitching very much like the best prospect in baseball with the stats to back that up. Can he keep this going?

“We all know this game is very humbling,” said Ramsey. “There are two types of players, those that have been humbled and those about to be. We’ve all heard that line. I hope for the best and that he never gets knocked around. But we had a couple of games in ‘19 where he got knocked around. But he always kept working to be better.

“Can I see these numbers continuing? Absolutely. Do I think they are going to? I don’t know. It’s hard to say, it really is. There are some good teams out there and we’ve only just begun the season. He has the stuff to be as good as anyone on any night. But this game is still really hard.”

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