With the present-day Orioles in such a sorry state, the club got a much-needed chance to look toward the future Monday night.
The Orioles selected right-handed pitcher Grayson Rodriguez out of Central Heights (Tex.) High School with the 11th overall pick in the 2018 amateur draft.
“Grayson Rodriguez is a future power pitcher with an advanced delivery and feel for all of his pitches,” said director of scouting Gary Rajsich. “He has command of four above average pitches, can shape two distinct breaking balls, and attacks the strike zone.”
On a conference call after day one of the draft, Rajsich elaborated on what the Orioles liked about Rodriguez.
“The first thing you notice is that he’s got a big, strong, durable body, and he’s an advanced high school pitcher that is a unique combination of power and polish,” Rajsich said. “He’s got a good, advanced delivery that he can repeat. His arm action’s nice and clean, and the ball comes out of his hand very well. He’s got advanced command of four pitches, and he just pounds the strike zone. We just love the competitor in him. He’s got poise and composure on the mound. He’s just out there to take care of business.
“He was a consensus pick for us in the first round. We all loved him, and we were just thrilled that he was there for us at pick 11.”
Baseball America described the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Rodriguez as “the biggest pop-up player of the 2018 draft class.” He improved his stock dramatically in the past year after undergoing a rigorous conditioning program over the winter, increasing the velocity on his fastball from the low to the upper 90s.
“Rodriguez has regularly been up to 97-98 mph with his fastball and sits in the mid-90s throughout his starts with remarkable ease in his delivery,” Baseball America wrote. “In addition to the fastball, Rodriguez has a low-80s slider and a curveball that is a step ahead at 72-74 mph and occasionally slows up.”
MLB Pipeline wrote of Rodriguez, “Rodriguez is a decent athlete who uses a controlled delivery that allows him to provide strikes on a regular basis. His 6-foot-5 frame and high-three-quarters slot create steep downhill plane with his pitches.”
Rodriguez credited his intense winter training for his rapid improvement as a pitcher this year.
“I started going to a place in Tyler, Texas, a workout place, they also work out big leaguers like Brandon Belt, Michael Kopech, Josh Tomlin,” Rodriguez said. “I went there from September probably up until we started practice for high school season in January, and we got on a pretty strict training program. I had a personal trainer, and I saw him two to three times a week.”
For Rodriguez, the training paid immediate dividends.
“The ball just felt different coming out of my hand,” Rodriguez said. “It was taking like half the effort it did before to throw it as hard as I wanted to. I definitely didn’t have to try to throw hard. It just kind of came a lot more natural. … Everything just worked so much more fluid. The ball would just jump out of my hand. Everytime I threw a fastball, or I really threw a good one, I could hear it right before it hit the mitt.”
Rodriguez, 18, is currently committed to Texas A&M, but seems more likely to pursue his professional career and sign with the Orioles.
“I want to get it done as soon as we can, go out there to Florida, get a uniform on, and start pitching. I’m ready,” Rodriguez said.
It marked the second straight year the Orioles have selected a high school pitcher with their first overall pick. They took lefty D.L. Hall out of Valdosta (Ga.) High School with the 21st overall pick in 2017.
The selection of Rodriguez fits the Orioles’ recent profile of drafting from the high school ranks. According to Baseball America, in the Orioles’ last five drafts prior to tonight, they selected high schoolers with 59.3% of their picks in the first five rounds, the most of any team in baseball.
Rodriguez was a bit of a surprise pick, as no draft experts expected the Orioles to select him at No. 11. MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo predicted the club to pick prep lefty Ryan Weathers (son of former big league pitcher David Weathers), while Jim Callis pegged prep right-hander Cole Winn. CBS Sports’ Mike Axisa also predicted Winn. FanGraphs’ mock draft, from Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel, tabbed Florida third baseman Jonathan India.
India and Weathers were both off the board by the time the Orioles picked. India was selected fifth overall by the Cincinnati Reds, while Weathers went to the San Diego Padres at No. 7. Winn fell to the Texas Rangers at No. 15.
In their mock drafts, Axisa predicted Rodriguez to land with the Tampa Bay Rays at No. 16 overall, while Callis placed him with the Milwaukee Brewers at No. 21. Both Mayo and the FanGraphs duo had him falling to the Kansas City Royals at No. 34.
The Orioles made another pick on the first day of the draft, selecting shortstop Cadyn Grenier out of Oregon State with the No. 37 pick (part of competitive balance round A).
Grenier, listed at 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds, is known for his defensive prowess at shortstop. MLB Pipeline wrote, “There is no doubt he can stay at the premium position long-term, with an outstanding internal clock, good hands, above-average speed to give him excellent range and more than enough arm to make throws from anywhere on the infield.”
Being an elite defender is a point of pride for the 21-year-old Grenier.
“I owe it all to the preparation that I put in, day in and day out,” Grenier said. “You just practice every ground ball like it’s a Game Seven World Series clincher. And that’s just the way I go about my business on defense. I know my athleticism, I know my arm, and I expect myself to make plays that people couldn’t even dream of, and I expect myself to make them routinely. So it’s all a mindset and the preparation that I put in, and it pays off.”
Grenier, though, faces questions about his offensive potential, with MLB Pipeline stating that he has “bat speed and a little pop to his pull side, but he tends to be off-balance often when he swings.”
The 21-year-old Grenier was previously drafted in the 21st round by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2005 out of Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas, where current Orioles’ outfielder Joey Rickard also attended.
Grenier admitted he was surprised to be drafted by the Orioles, who hadn’t spoken with him often during the scouting process.
“I hadn’t really talked to the Orioles very much at all this year,” Grenier said. “Just the normal meeting with the area guy and all that, but it wasn’t anything like, ‘Hey, I’m checking in every week because I want you to know that we’re really interested.’ And all of a sudden, something went right, and they popped up and took advantage.”
Even if it wasn’t the destination he’d expected, Grenier is happy to kick off his pro career.
“It’s awesome,” Grenier said. “For all of us that want to be big league baseball players, this is the first step, getting drafted and getting with a team and entering pro ball. Obviously it’s exactly what we wanted from the time I stepped on campus, and for a lot of us, it’s the best day. It’s the best thing we could imagine right now.”