Grayson Rodriguez was the Orioles’ top draft choice in 2018. Last season, he was dominant at High-A Aberdeen and Double A-Bowie (9-1, 2.36 ERA, 161 strikeouts, 27 walks in 103 innings). This week, Rodriguez was named as the sixth-best prospect in the minor leagues by Baseball America, and the top pitcher.
The 6-foot-5, 22-year-old right-hander from Nacogdoches, Texas talked about his offseason, the Orioles’ prospects, getting closer to the majors, and being a Ravens fan. The interview has been edited for clarity.
Question: What’s your reaction to finding out you’re the best pitching prospect in the minor leagues, according to Baseball America?
Rodriguez: “It’s an honor, but at the same time, you can’t really focus on that too much. You’ve got to put your head down. You’ve got to keep working. Everybody behind you is trying to catch up to you. It puts a target on your back, and you’re just trying to stay a little bit ahead of everybody else.”
Q: What has your offseason training been like?
Rodriguez: “I train whole body five days a week, Monday through Friday. I have a facility I’ve gone to since I’ve been in high school. Drive up there five days a week, throwing five days a week, take the weekends off, throw a bullpen on Friday, mound work on Tuesdays. It’s kind of just clean sailing there.”
Q: Is there anything specific you’ve been working on this offseason?
Rodriguez: “Really just trying to get the body back into shape, get it prepared for the coming season. A long season takes a toll on your body. That first part of the offseason, you kind of rest and recover. You spend the next couple of months trying to build yourself back up for spring training. Nothing really in particular.”
Q: You had such a statistically excellent season in 2021, but there are always things you want to improve on. Were you happy with last season?
Rodriguez: “I was thankful for how it went. Obviously, we were able to make it through healthy, didn’t miss any starts, didn’t have any kind of problems at all. That was probably the biggest thing I was happy with. The stats kind of come second. I try not to pay a whole lot of attention to stats, just try to work on my craft, go out and get better. The results will kind of take care of themselves. In the minor leagues, stats don’t really matter all that much. I’d say the biggest thing I was happiest with, that I was proud of, was being healthy and not missing any starts.”
Q: Including yourself, there were five Orioles on the top 100 prospect list. You played with most of the best prospects in the Orioles’ system last season. What was that like?
Rodriguez: “I’d say the best part is the surprise factor. Some of our people don’t know who some of our other prospects are. They watch them, they go to a game, they see a game, and it’s kind of ‘wow.’
“To me, honestly, I was shocked that there weren’t more guys on that list that just came out. I can’t remember who posted it. I think I saw something about it on Twitter, but you could go through our organization and there are 15 other guys that deserve to be on that list that weren’t, and that’s kind of a cool thing for being an Orioles fan, that you know that there are so many other guys in our system that have some really good talent.”
Q: Who are some of those other top prospects?
Rodriguez: “I’d say firsthand some of the ones that I got to watch for a good part of the year, [outfielder] Kyle Stowers, [infielder] Joey Ortiz, obviously [infielder] Gunnar Henderson, who was on the top 100 list], [infielder] Jordan] Westburg when he finally got to Double-A. You hear things about [outfielder] Colton Cowser and those other new draft guys, it’s something pretty special.”
Q: You’re not on the 40-man roster, and in a year where there wasn’t a lockout, you’d likely be invited to major league spring training. How has the labor uncertainty affected your timetable for spring?
Rodriguez: “Not really because spring training is ultimately the same whether it’s big league or minor league. It’s only labeled differently. From my perspective, it’s show up, you get your innings in, you get your work in to prepare for the season and whether that’s at the minor league complex or at the big league complex, it’s really the same, just the setting is different.”
Q: How was it working with Adley Rutschman last season?
Rodriguez: “It’s awesome. We view ourselves as teammates for the next 20 years. It’s a lot of fun to be able to work together, to know each other coming up through the minor leagues, knowing little things about each other that give you an edge. For us, being able to spend a majority year together.
“Two years ago at the alternate site [at Bowie], and this past season, Adley knows me just as well as anybody else and that’s going to be huge down the road. If I’m doing something wrong, something not normal for me, he’s going to be able to pick up on it quicker than say another player or maybe even the pitching coach because the catcher’s actually catching the ball.”
Q: Do you expect to start the season at Triple-A Norfolk?
Rodriguez: “From the player’s perspective, obviously you want to start in the big leagues. That’s my goal. Those are my expectations, but it’s up to the organization to determine where I go. A large part [is] how I perform in the spring and just what their goal is for me. That’s something I can’t really worry about. I put my head down and treat it like: ‘I’ll start in the big leagues this year,’ but ultimately it’s not my decision.”
Q: How excited are you that you’re getting closer to your ultimate goal?
Rodriguez: “It’s phenomenal. This being the first year with feeling like it’s within reach, it helps a lot in the offseason. You prepare a little bit better than you do years before. It gives you some excitement and some extra energy.”
Q: You often tweet about the Ravens. How did you become such a big Ravens fan?
Rodriguez: “I grew up a Texans fan, and kind of what’s going on with that over there … Being in Baltimore, it was fun to follow the Ravens. I followed them a little [in 2020], not as invested as I was this year. Justin Tucker is my guy, so being able to hang out with him, meet him makes it a little bit more interesting. I like Baltimore, so that was a fun football team to go for.”
Q: Your first Ravens game in person was the Packers game last month. Was that fun?
Rodriguez: “Obviously, the result wasn’t what we wanted. That was my first Ravens game. That was a blast. Seeing the crowd and everything like that. Hopefully, we can get back to playing some good baseball with the Orioles, and that [atmosphere] will be Camden Yards.”
Orioles’ minicamp: The Orioles are holding a minicamp for a number of their top prospects in Sarasota that runs through Tuesday. The last three No. 1 draft picks — catcher Adley Rutschman, and outfielders Heston Kjerstad and Colton Cowser — will be there along with outfielders Kyle Stowers and Robert Neustrom, and infielders Patrick Dorrian, Gunnar Henderson, Jordan Westburg and César Prieto, who recently signed with the club. Manager Brandon Hyde, coaches Tim Cossins, Tony Mansolino and Anthony Sanders and Triple-A Norfolk manager Buck Britton will be there, as well.