JJ Cooper: Orioles Pitching Prospect Grayson Rodriguez Has ‘Building Blocks Of An Ace’

Recently, Baseball America released its preseason rankings of the farm systems in Major League Baseball. This publication is widely known for providing some of the most accurate rankings in forecasting future value for clubs, and typically the Orioles have not resided toward the top of these lists.

However, this year Baseball America assessed the Orioles as having the seventh-best system in baseball — the best ranking the club has ever garnered in the history of BA’s rankings.

Part of the system’s improvement come from the high draft picks garnered through struggles at the major-league level in recent years. The club’s 47-win season in 2018 netted the Orioles the No. 1 pick in the 2019 MLB Draft, which they used to select Adley Rutschman, a switch-hitting catcher out of Oregon State. Baseball America ranked him as the No. 2 prospect in baseball in its latest top-100 list.

“Adley Rutschman is going to, by himself, make a system rank pretty highly,” Baseball America executive editor JJ Cooper said on Glenn Clark Radio Feb. 15. “Picking No. 1 in a year where Rutschman is available is going to help your farm system a ton.”

Rutschman isn’t the only Orioles prospect who cracked the top-100 list. Five Orioles made it besides Rutschman: right-hander Grayson Rodriguez (No. 22); left-hander DL Hall (No. 59); outfielder Heston Kjerstad (No. 62), and left fielder/first baseman Ryan Mountcastle (No. 63).

Production from the mound has been quite elusive in recent years for the big-league team, so Hall and Rodriguez should have fans optimistic about the future of the rotation. In 2019, the 6-foot-2 Hall posted a 3.46 ERA and 116 strikeouts in 80.2 innings at Frederick, then the Orioles’ High-A affiliate. That same year, the 6-foot-5 Rodriguez had a 2.68 ERA and 129 strikeouts in 94 innings at Low-A Delmarva.

“Both of these guys have the stuff to be front-of-the-rotation-type guys,” Cooper said. “We always have guys in the top-100 for us that have stuff left to do. In DL Hall’s case, the control and command — which, I think his walk rates in 2019 were more of a developmental decision, so I am not as worried — but he would have to improve his control significantly to be an ace. Grayson Rodriguez has the building blocks of an ace. He has the tools to do that. That’s why he is ranked in the top 25 for us.”

High drafts picks aren’t the only reason the Orioles’ farm system has improved. The Orioles’ front office has altered how it acquires amateur talent, with the main change coming on the international front. The Orioles were notorious for largely neglecting the international player pool for years, but that changed under GM Mike Elias.

“They stopped tying one hand behind their backs,” Cooper said. “For a long time, 29 MLB teams viewed Latin America as a very important of their player development system. The Orioles were the one team who sat aside on their own where they didn’t scout players in Latin America. Over 30 percent of major leaguers come from these nations.”

Ranking farm systems and prospects this year was an even greater challenge than usual, according to Cooper. Much of the baseball world came to a halt in 2020. There was no minor-league season, and only so many prospects could participate at their club’s alternate site or fall instructional workouts.

“One of the things that has been very difficult is you do not want to overrate anything that happened in instructional leagues or at alternate training sites,” Cooper said. “No minor leaguers have had anything to add to their resumes in a while.”

Orioles fans should be optimistic about the next wave of young talent coming through the system. However, fans should expect significant fluctuation in the rankings this time next year, hopefully after a close-to-normal minor-league season.

“I would expect there to be more variance this year,” Cooper said. “We’re coming off a year where no one played. There is an absolute level of volatility and variance in what is already normally a very difficult task.”

For more from Cooper, listen to the full interview here:

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