Baltimore Orioles: Could Grayson Rodriguez Start on Opening Day?
There has been plenty of disappointment around Baltimore as the Orioles have not had an active offseason in what seemed like a make-or-break free agency for the future of the squad and the sake of the 2023 team. It especially seemed like an offseason where adding top-of-the-rotation pitching would be a primary goal for the team but that has yet to come to fruition as the only pitching additions the team has made are veteran Kyle Gibson, who is coming off of a 5.05 ERA season, and rule-5 pick Andrew Politi.
With the lack of moves thus far, there is uncertainty about what the state of the rotation will be in 2023. Gibson should be a middle-of-the-rotation piece who will provide a valuable veteran presence and Politi will be in the bullpen if he makes the roster. From last year’s squad, Kyle Bradish and Dean Kremer seem like safe bets to make the opening-day rotation, and players like DL Hall, Austin Voth, Spenser Watkins, and Tyler Wells will have the opportunity to compete as well.
As the season progresses, John Means should return from injury and give the rotation a boost and there will likely be other players who emerge such as Mike Baumann or Alexander Wells. However, one player who has yet to make his big league debut but figures to play a key role on the 2023 Orioles is Grayson Rodriguez. Rodriguez turned 23 less than a month ago and is the fourth-ranked prospect in baseball according to MLBPipeline and second on the O’s behind Gunnar Henderson. There has been a lot of hype surrounding Grayson Rodriguez and the question is: could he possibly make his MLB debut on Opening Day in 2023?
Baltimore Orioles: Could Grayson Rodriguez be a candidate to start on Opening Day?
The Orioles have been reluctant to rush prospects in the Mike Elias era, so there is uncertainty as to whether or not Rodriguez will make the team out of spring training or if he will need to wait a few weeks like Rutschman did last season before earning a trip to Baltimore. Despite his age, Rodriguez dominated Norfolk last season before dealing with injury issues. In 14 starts, he had a 2.20 ERA in 69.2 innings pitched with an extremely impressive 4.62 strikeout-to-walk ratio. However, injuries did cut his season short and there is some question as to whether or not he will be able to return to form to begin 2023 and if his AAA success will translate to immediate success in the big leagues.
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However, Grayson Rodriguez has dominated in every level of the minors since he was drafted by the Orioles in the first round of the 2018 draft out of high school. He was Dan Duquette’s final first-round pick as general manager of the O’s and has shined in an organization that has since been reluctant to draft pitchers, especially high school pitchers. In 4 seasons, Rodriguez has a 25-9 record with a 2.47 ERA across five minor league levels. His strikeout rate has hovered around 13 strikeouts per 9 innings and his walk rate has never been higher than 3.4 walks per 9 innings over a full season.
He has also shown an innate ability to keep the ball in the yard as he has only allowed 1 home run for every 18 innings he has pitched professionally. Simply put, GrayRod has all the potential in the world and there is a reason why he is a consensus top-7 prospect in baseball for an organization that has lacked top-line pitching for decades.
If the O’s develop Rodriguez well and are cautious, he has the potential to be the best homegrown starting pitcher for the O’s since Mike Mussina. This potential, combined with injuries, means that the Orioles will be extremely cautious because a homegrown ace would be a huge boost for the future of the franchise and everything will be done to not jeopardize this potential. Grayson was also a full five years younger than the average Triple-A player last season so he still is relatively young and would be the second youngest player on the 2023 roster with only Gunnar Henderson being younger. These factors combined with Elias’ history of reluctance to rush prospects mean that I am skeptical that GrayRod will make the opening-day roster.
Grayson Rodriguez missed out on a promotion due to injury in 2022, but will appear for the 2023 Baltimore Orioles sooner than later.
Conversely, there is no question that Rodriguez will be one of the five best starting pitcher options for the Orioles out of Spring Training and it is certainly possible that he will be the best starting option in the organization despite his lack of MLB experience. As I mentioned earlier, the O’s have had a quiet offseason and the only ace available in free agency as I write this is Carlos Rodon who is unlikely to sign in Baltimore. With the amount of position player depth, the O’s have the assets available to acquire an ace such as Corbin Burnes, Pablo Lopez, or Brandon Woodruff but this also seems like a non-reality for this offseason. As I have written before, Kyle Bradish and Dean Kremer are the best options among pitchers who have MLB experience in Baltimore but neither of them has eye-popping numbers.
Grayson Rodriguez has proven that he can dominate hitters to an extent that no other starters in the organization have and the O’s are entering a critical season as they will have expectations to compete for a playoff spot. In a loaded AL East, this will be tough because every team in the division has firepower in the starting lineup and rotation. Every game will be critical and getting off to a strong start is needed for an O’s team that won 83 games last year and had the second-best record among non-playoff teams in the majors.
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The O’s open the season at Fenway Park to face a Red Sox team that has a lot to prove after losing Xander Bogaerts to the Padres. However, they still have plenty of offensive weapons in Rafael Devers, JD Martinez, and Trevor Story among others and can still jump on an O’s team the opening weekend. After that, the Orioles travel to Texas to face an interesting Rangers team who have three superstars in Jacob deGrom, Corey Seager, and Marcus Semien but a lot of question marks outside of those three.
An interesting possibility would be to have Rodriguez start the O’s home opener against the Yankees on April 6. This is the seventh game and eighth day of the season for the Orioles so it would be difficult to have GrayRod start Opening Day and the home opener. This possibility is exciting for fans as it would be the most exciting home opener for the O’s in a long time. Just imagine Grayson Rodriguez on the mound in his big league debut pitching to Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson at third base in each of their first opening days in front of a sold-out Camden Yards against the hated Yankees. It would possibly be the most electric atmosphere in Baltimore since the Orioles won the division in 2014 and earned a trip to the ALCS.
Ultimately, I do not believe that Grayson Rodriguez will make the opening day roster as much as I want him to but I do trust Elias and company to make the right moves for his future and the future of this organization.