BOWIE - As he gets set to make a playoff start tonight for the Double-A Bowie Baysox, it is obvious that right-hander Grayson Rodriguez has had a special season. He is baseball’s No. 1-ranked pitching prospect for a reason, and the stats bear that out.
But his teammates in Bowie will remind you he has also been a very solid teammate, and his coaches will remind you of that too. The organization also made sure he made gains this year in things like how he scouts his opponents. During a long season, a young talent can learn more than just how to better command his fastball and work on his secondary pitches.
When you are trying to build an ace, you should not leave any stone unturned.
In 23 starts this season between high Single-A Aberdeen and Bowie, Rodriguez, 21, has gone 9-1 with a 2.36 ERA over 103 innings. He has allowed 58 hits with 27 walks, 161 strikeouts, a .159 average against and 0.83 WHIP.
Tonight he will try to pitch Bowie even in the Double-A Northeast Championship Series after Akron won 5-1 last night at Prince George’s Stadium. Bowie will try to avoid going 0-2 before the best-of-five finals move to Akron’s park for the rest of the series.
Among all pitchers throughout the minors this year that threw 80 innings or more, Rodriguez ranks eighth in ERA, sixth in strikeouts, fifth in strikeouts per nine innings (14.07), third in swinging strike percentage (18.7) and tied for first in strikeout percentage (40.5).
“The on-field stuff, obviously he’s got a lot of talent, a lot of God-given ability,” Baysox manager Buck Britton said Tuesday at Prince George’s Stadium. “But the moments that are special are the stuff that happens in the clubhouse. Just him as a human being, how good of a kid he is.
“The energy that he brings, even when he is not pitching. He’s a very fun guy to be around. But the competitor really shows up every five or six days when it’s his turn to pitch. He wants to win, but more importantly, he wants his teammates to succeed too, and that’s a special quality for a kid like that.”
In his 18 starts at Double-A only, he has gone 6-1 with a 2.60 ERA for Bowie. Over 79 2/3 innings he walked 22 and fanned 121 with a .165 batting average against and 0.87 WHIP.
“That guy is unbelievable,” said Bowie third baseman Patrick Dorrian. “I faced him a few times in 2019 when I was with the Pirates organization in Greensboro. I remember telling my teammates when I was there that he’s got the best stuff I’ve ever seen. And that was two years ago. He was 19 then. Every time he pitches it’s just unbelievable consistency with the velocity and location. The pitches he throws in different counts for strikes. And especially with his maturity at a young age. He’s not a guy that will come in and throw stuff around out of frustration. Just fun to watch.”
Dorrian said Rodriguez has as much talent as any pitcher he’s seen this year on any team.
“Oh yeah, no doubt about it. No doubt. Just so, so consistent.”
Could he pitch in the majors today?
“I don’t see why not,” said Dorrian. “He works so hard and is a good guy. He’s a good clubhouse guy on top of that incredible talent.”
Added Bowie outfielder Zach Watson: “It’s fun. Especially from center field, you get to watch the pitches and the way the ball moves. It’s awesome. He throws fast and keeps it up through the game. Kid’s a stud.”
Bowie catcher Cody Roberts can provide a unique perspective. He caught Rodriguez early this year at Aberdeen and now has done so late in the year with Bowie. Roberts also caught Rodriguez in 2019 with low Single-A Delmarva.
Where has Roberts seen growth in Rodriguez from Delmarva then into Bowie now?
“Think his control has increased quite a bit,” he said. “Obviously, all his stuff is phenomenal. There are times he can get away with certain pitches because it is 99 or 100 (mph) with a really good curveball and changeup. But what I have seen here, he is really doing a good job commanding the ball and not walking guys. If he makes a mistake, he’s going to be fine. One of the things our org has emphasized with him is that high pitch (the elevated fastball).”
Another wrinkle the Orioles implemented for him this year is to have Rodriguez and his catcher watch video with pitchers with velocity similar to what Rodriguez brings. They scout their opponents facing other hard-throwing pitchers. The thinking seems to be: Why have him watch video where the hitters he may see that night are facing a pitcher throwing only 90 or 92 mph?
“When we do his scouting reports they always match him with a guy with similar velocity,” Roberts explained. “We watch velocity in terms of, how did these hitters we are facing tonight attack that (other) guy? You can look at reports on the hitters, but if they are batting against 90 or 91 mph sinkers, it doesn’t play the same way as Grayson’s fastball.”
Roberts said one pitcher with a fastball similar to Grayson’s who has pitched in their league this year was Nationals prospect Cade Cavalli. He can throw mid-to-high 90s and went 3-3 with a 2.79 ERA in 11 starts with Harrisburg from late June to late August before he was moved to Triple-A.
So Rodriguez and his catcher have gotten video of Cavalli to see how hitters Rodriguez will face did versus Cavalli. How did they handle his premium velocity? Did hitters cheat to get to his fastball?
While Rodriguez is the No.7 prospect in Baseball America’s top 100, Cavalli is No. 16. On MLBPipeline.com, Rodriguez is No. 8 and Cavalli No. 40.
“So our org has done a good job of building good reports for our specific pitchers,” Roberts said. “He’s done a good job. We have meetings before the starts and go over the attack plan, each hitter, plus guys that may come off the bench. Grayson has done a really good job of leaning into that. We want to pitch off our strengths to their weaknesses.”
So as Rodriguez has crafted a big year on the O’s farm, the scouting reports were designed to help him see how other batters did against a fastball like his.
The results speak for themselves. Rodriguez will try to pitch the Baysox to a huge win tonight in his final appearance this season at Bowie.