The road to get to this point wasn’t an easy one for Grayson Rodriguez.
This current point, of course, is he’s now the consensus best pitching prospect in all of baseball, thanks to a dominant run through the Baltimore Orioles farm system that sees him finishing up his season with the Double-A Bowie Baysox, including a scheduled start against the Somerset Patriots in Bowie on Friday night.
Still just 21 years old, the big, Texas-born righty is 8-1 with a 2.60 ERA this season in his first 20 starts, racking up a whopping 144 strikeouts in just 90 innings of work.
So, it’s perhaps easy to forget that as late as 2017, he was still swinging the bat during his travel ball days, his future on the mound still a bit uncertain until he became a quick riser heading into the 2018 MLB Draft and was selected 11th overall by Baltimore. It’s just as easy to forget that there was a large contingent of that fanbase, as well as some draft experts, who trashed the pick at the time.
“Nothing much has changed from a player’s standpoint,” Rodriguez told PatriotsBaseball.com earlier this week.
“I feel like I’ve always done the same things with the game, I’ve always thrown the same pitches, stuff like that. But now, I don’t know if I wasn’t as good back in the showcase days or now it’s that I’m starting to throw a lot harder and more consistently. That does (all feel like a while ago now). But, my mechanics are a little bit different from the time when I was in high school, and a lot of that was figuring out a way to use my legs a little bit more now and learning how to pitch to hitters and not just going out there and throwing the ball in the strike zone. Mentally, a lot has changed, and that’s probably been the biggest step forward.”
Physically, though, it’s an adjustment that Rodriguez made to utilize his lower half more to generate more velocity that’s paid the most dividends, one that’s seen his fastball touch 100 miles per hour this season.
“I see a pitching coach down in the Houston area, his name is David Evans, and I saw him before my senior year of high school, and I was able to work with him a little bit then,” Rodriguez said. “Since I’ve gotten into pro ball, I’ve still gone to him a couple times each year before I report to spring training. Being able to go see him and work with him, it was a game-changer for me, but that was something we worked on, just how to generate more velocity and just how to be a better pitcher.”
It’s safe to say that’s worked out.
In Baseball America’s most recent update of their Top 100 prospects list, Rodriguez was ranked ninth. MLB Pipeline has him eighth. Consensus top pitching prospect? Yep. Big deal? Yep. Big deal to him? Nope. Anyone who’s been fortunate enough to come across Rodriguez over the past few years is well aware of how humble he’s remained through all of his well-deserved success.
“I haven’t really gotten used to it, and it isn’t something I really think about all that much, or at least try not to think about,” he said. “I’ve been on both sides of the rankings. It’s obviously a big honor, but it really doesn’t mean anything as a player. I think it’s more for the fans and their perspective. But you have to keep working hard. You always have something to prove, you can always make yourself better. If you let (rankings) get to you or anything, you might stop working as hard. As a player, you really can’t pay attention to that stuff, because it’s ultimately somebody else’s opinion and your job is to make it to the big leagues and make yourself better each day.”
Soon, young man. Soon.
Camden Yards will come calling in the very near future for Rodriguez, but even as the top pitching prospect in the game, he does concede there are things he needs to fine-tune before he makes the big jump to the game’s highest level.
“I’d just say it’s finding more consistency with pitches,” he said. “I think that’s something that every pitcher can work on. Sometimes, you go out for a start and you might not have the slider or you might not have the curveball or changeup or whatever it might be. I think being able to get that feel of having something every night; which almost sounds impossible but if you work on it enough, it is achievable. Just being able to dissect the hitters a little bit better. I’m starting to learn how to pitch to guys, read scouting reports and stuff like that and implement that into a start. Just getting that big-league knowledge, getting that ready.”
Rodriguez has found that the Northeast League, which has had 17 of Baseball America’s Top 100 prospects eligible for inclusion in their league top prospects list roll through it at one point or another, has served as a great proving ground in being able to show he’s ready for that next step.
“It’s been great, really facing some talented hitters every week, every start,” he said. “There’s always somebody in the lineup that’s a top guy, or top prospect or somebody that’s hitting the ball really well. You get more learning experiences out of bad starts than you do good ones, it really shows your weaknesses, so I think being able to be in some competitive games like that really helps you as a player. In the minor leagues, you’re not so much focused on results or stats or anything like that, all you’re really worried about is getting better. We’ve been able to do that this year.”