FREDERICK-After being drafted by the Orioles as the 11th overall pick in June 2018, pitcher Grayson Rodriguez said he didn’t get a lot of experience with analytics when he spent the rest of the summer in the Gulf Coast League.
That changed when the 6-foot-5 right-hander showed up for his first spring training. After a full day of workouts, Rodriguez and other pitchers regularly attended one to two hourlong classroom sessions to get acclimated on the Orioles’ new pitching philosophy. It didn’t take long for Rodriguez to see some of the new technology outside of the classroom as well.
“First couple bullpens we started seeing those cameras all around,” Rodriguez, 20, said on Sunday at the final Birdland Caravan stop at Flying Dog Brewery in Frederick. “We had all kinds of analytical stuff, and that’s really helped me.”
Single-A Delmarva pitching coach Justin Ramsey continued to implement the plan, and it showed Rodriguez a new side of pitching. He was able to see more than he could on the mound, such as how his pitches move and which ones are working better for him in certain counts. It also helped show potential weaknesses and how Rodriguez could improve them.
“It really improves your tools as a pitcher,” Rodriguez said. “Learning about yourself, it really makes you better.”
Rodriguez came to Delmarva with a fastball, curve and slider, but started throwing a changeup with the Shorebirds. He reviewed video on how to throw the pitch, where to locate it and data on the best counts to use it. It was a challenge for Rodriguez to throw it at first, especially with the trust he had in his other pitches.
“It’s tough going away from what works,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve thrown a curveball since I was 12. I’m pretty confident in that pitch and to go out and throw changeups to guys with two strikes and when you’re behind in the count it’s kind of like, ‘Oh, do I really want to throw that?’ Once you trust that and see that it works, it’s a whole new world.”
Rodriguez did so well in 2019 that he and right-hander Michael Baumann, 24, shared the organization’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year award. Rodriguez was 10-4 with a 2.68 ERA in 28 starts for the Shorebirds and had a .0989 WHIP. He allowed just 5.5 hits per nine innings and struck out 129 in 94 innings while walking 36. Rodriguez allowed only four home runs.
For Rodriguez, working on a new pitch is part of the growth process in the minor leagues. Higher up in the minors, left-hander Keegan Akin, 24, worked at Triple-A Norfolk to improve his offspeed pitches, and in Bowie, left-hander Zac Lowther, 23, worked on developing a curveball to complement his fastball and changeup.
“When guys are working on things in the minor leagues, it’s not about wins or losses, it’s about getting better,” Rodriguez said. “Something might not look right to any fan on paper but really that’s what this guy’s trying to do. He’s really working on something.”
After setting a goal of working on his secondary pitches before last season, Rodriguez’s goal this year is to get comfortable throwing those pitches for strikes.
“Sometimes they’re strike pitches and sometimes they’re chase pitches,” Rodriguez said. “It’s about turning those chase pitches and being able to throw them for strikes.”
Finding a position for Ryan Mountcastle: Hitting hasn’t been a problem since Ryan Mountcastle was selected by the Orioles as the 36th overall pick in the first round of the 2015 MLB Draft. It’s finding a position in the field that’s been an issue.
The 22-year-old was drafted as a shortstop and moved to third base for Double-A Bowie in 2018. Last year, in Triple-A Norfolk, he spent 84 games at first base, 26 games in left field and nine at first base.
Heading into this spring, Mountcastle said he hasn’t been told to emphasize one position yet. He said he worked on each during the offseason and is taking three different gloves to spring training. With all the unknowns defensively, Mountcastle said he’s learned to treat hitting and playing in the field, as “two different games.” That worked last year for the Tides, when he slashed .312/.344/.527 and was named International League MVP and the Orioles’ Minor League Player of the Year.
“I don’t let my defense into my offense nor do I let my offense affect my defense,” Mountcastle said. “I just go out there and play hard and try to stay confident in whatever I’m doing.”
Mountcastle would like to break camp with the team but is prepared to move forward if that doesn’t happen and work to make it a reality.
“All these guys’ mindset going into spring is to make the big league team,” Mountcastle said. “If I don’t, I’m going to work hard trying to be up there and if I do, I’ll be ready to go.”