No. 2 O's prospect Rodriguez doesn't make roster

GM Elias optimistic righty's stint with Triple-A Norfolk will be short

March 27th, 2023

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Grayson Rodriguez will have to wait a bit longer for his MLB debut. But Orioles general manager Mike Elias is optimistic it’s coming not too far into the future.

Rodriguez won’t be in the big leagues to open the 2023 season, though, as the 23-year-old right-hander was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk following Baltimore’s 8-2 loss to St. Louis in its Grapefruit League finale on Monday afternoon at Ed Smith Stadium. Rodriguez is Baltimore’s No. 2 prospect and MLB Pipeline’s No. 7 overall prospect.

Early in camp, Rodriguez appeared to be among the front-runners to secure one of the five spots in the O’s rotation. Elias said numerous times heading into Spring Training that Rodriguez would have a strong opportunity to do so, even stating at one point the 2018 first-round Draft pick was on the “inside track.”

However, Rodriguez endured several tough outings late in the spring. After allowing only one run total in 4 2/3 innings over his first two starts, he gave up 14 runs (11 earned) in 10 2/3 frames over his final three outings. In each of those last three starts, Rodriguez was strong the first time through the opposing team’s order before running into trouble.

“I wasn’t expecting this, and we were hoping that he would show up as a better version of himself than I think we got here,” Elias said. “We just had five other guys that were more deserving at this point in time. But I know what he’s capable of. I think he’s going to show it again really quickly.”

Kyle Gibson will start Opening Day for the Orioles on Thursday vs. the Red Sox at Fenway Park, then will be followed by Dean Kremer in the second game. The third, fourth and fifth contests will be started (in some order) by Cole Irvin, Kyle Bradish and Tyler Wells, who secured the final spot over Rodriguez by allowing only two runs (one earned) in 8 2/3 innings during his last two Grapefruit League starts.

Manager Brandon Hyde said it was difficult sharing the news Monday morning with Rodriguez.

"Any time you have those type of conversations, it's not easy," Hyde said. "I think that, like all of our guys, he handled it like a pro. And we'll move on from there."

Rodriguez likely would have reached the Major Leagues last year, had he not missed three months due to a right lat strain. He returned from the injury in September, when he made six starts, including his final three for Norfolk.

Over his first four professional seasons, Rodriguez dominated every level of the Minors. He’s already proven he can excel at Triple-A, where he recorded a 2.20 ERA and a 0.93 WHIP in 14 starts last season.

That’s why Elias is optimistic Rodriguez’s upcoming stay in Norfolk won’t last long, as he may need only a short time to get his strong four-pitch mix back to where it’s previously been.

“I thought he wasn’t able to establish his slider as well as we’ve seen him do in the past. Command’s not as good as we’ve seen him [have] in the past,” Elias said. “And these other guys stayed healthy and pitched better, and they all have Major League track records, and they’ve earned these spots, too.”

In addition to Rodriguez and the five starters breaking camp with the O’s, six other pitchers were in the rotation competition at the start of the spring. Drew Rom, Spenser Watkins and Bruce Zimmermann were previously optioned to Norfolk. Mike Baumann and/or Austin Voth could be in the bullpen when Baltimore finalizes its 26-man Opening Day roster.

DL Hall, the Orioles’ No. 7 prospect and MLB Pipeline’s No. 97 overall prospect, had a slow build-up due to right lower lumbar discomfort, resulting in him getting sent down to Triple-A so he can continue to get stretched out.

Plus, there’s still John Means, Baltimore’s Opening Day starter in 2021 and ’22, who continues to recover from Tommy John surgery and could return as early as July.

With 162 regular-season games ahead, the Orioles are happy to have that type of starting depth.

“If we’re in the position where the five guys that we have now are throwing well and Grayson’s throwing well and DL’s throwing well and others in that group are throwing well, I think we’ll be very happy to sort that problem out,” Elias said. “But this is baseball. We’re expecting some injuries and some ups and downs.”