SALISBURY—Everyone has great things to say about Grayson Rodriguez, the Orioles’ top draft choice in 2018. On Friday, Rodriguez was named one of the pitchers for the American League in the Futures Game on July 7 in Cleveland. On June 18, Rodriguez pitched in the South Atlantic League All-Star Game.
In his first full professional season, Rodriguez is 7-1 with a 2.21 ERA for the Delmarva Shorebirds. He’s struck out five times as many batters as he’s walked (78 strikeouts to 15 walks in 57 innings).
At 19, Rodriguez is mature physically — 6 feet 5, 220 pounds — polite and outgoing. His high school, Central Heights in Nacogdoches, Texas, had no football team, but Rodriguez is a big fan of the Houston Texans and Texas A&M and an avid fantasy football player.
Rodriguez has impressed the people he works with every day.
“He’s awesome, he comes to the field ready to work every single day,” Shorebirds pitching coach Justin Ramsey said. “In terms of whatever expectations you have of a first-round talent, it’s everything you want and more. He’s humble, he’s hungry to be better. He’s always looking to some edge he can apply to his next outing.”
In 2018, Rodriguez was the 11th overall pick in the draft. He began his career at Gulf Coast, where he pitched just 19 1/3 innings with a 1.40 ERA, and then this year’s breakout performance.
“I have a changeup that’s been working fantastic for me so far,” Rodriguez said. “Being able to throw it ahead in the count, late in the count, whenever I want to. That was a big focus, the changeup, coming out being able to throw it, being able to throw it for strikes and put it where I want it — that’s helped a lot.”
His manager, Kyle Moore, worries only when Rodriguez comes close to exceeding his pitch count. He’s appreciative of the opportunity to manage Rodriguez.
“I try to treat Grayson just like I treat everybody else in the clubhouse,” Moore said. “One of our building blocks this year when we started was every single person in this clubhouse has to get a tiny little bit better every day.
“His tiny little bit better is way different than everybody else’s in the clubhouse because he has a chance to be a front-of -the-rotation guy. I’ve never seen one of those in the minor leagues.”
Rodriguez is being carefully monitored by the Orioles.
“This is my first time really doing it, first full season, just trying to get a good routine,” Rodriguez said. “It’s been real smooth, the first month was kind of playing around, figuring stuff out. Just find a routine and stick with it.”
Cadyn Grenier, who plays shortstop and second base for Delmarva, is a former college teammate of this year’s top pick, Adley Rutschman. Grenier knows quality, and he thinks Rodriguez has it.
“I love playing behind Grayson because he has a great tempo,” Grenier said. “He works fast and as an infielder you’re on your toes instead of sitting there like, ‘All right, 20-minute innings.’
“It’s more like two, three, four pitches in the matter of a minute. This is great. I love it. He’s obviously got great stuff, great command. He’s an awesome pitcher. The tempo that he works at … keeps the game flowing.”
Moore has several major league prospects on the team, including left-handed starter Drew Rom, Grenier and infielder Adam Hall. For most of his pitchers, Moore has to make sure they’ve mastered the basics. Rodriguez is past those.
“His marginally better every day is different than somebody else’s,” Moore said. “His stuff is so good that he’s going out there and working on stuff that’s going to help at Camden Yards real soon. He’s going out there and working on his third and fourth pitch in a 1-1 count or a 2-2 count as opposed to fastball command or getting something in the zone. That’s something that’s he always had nailed down.”
Rodriguez saw one of his teammates, Blaine Knight, promoted to High-A Frederick after he was the organization’s pitcher of the month for April. Rodriguez hasn’t gotten the call to the Keys yet. Perhaps that will come soon, or he might pitch at Delmarva all season long.
“In the minor leagues, usually the college guys move up a little bit faster,” Rodriguez said. “The high school guys, they kind of take their time with. I’m ready for whatever, the organization, they try to put me in, any kind of situation. I’m always ready for anything they throw at me.”