Orioles fans are eagerly awaiting the arrival of top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez, who’s squarely in the mix for a spot in the team’s Opening Day rotation. That shouldn’t be considered a foregone conclusion, however, Jacob Calvin Meyer of the Baltimore Sun writes. The O’s are planning to manage Rodriguez’s innings count this season anyhow, and doing so in the minors will be easier than at the Major League level. If Rodriguez does head to Norfolk to begin the season, the Orioles could look to any of Austin Voth, Tyler Wells, or Spenser Watkins to open the year on the starting staff.
Rodriguez, 23, was the No. 11 overall pick in 2018 and is widely regarded as one of the sport’s top overall pitching prospects. He posted a brilliant 2.20 ERA with a 35.8% strikeout rate against a 7.7% walk rate at Triple-A last year, though that dominance came in a relatively small sample of 69 2/3 innings. The 6’5″ hurler was limited to just 75 2/3 frames on the season overall, thanks to a Grade 2 lat strain that wiped out his entire June, July and August. Upon returning, he allowed nine runs with a 29-to-14 K/BB ratio in 19 2/3 innings — a notable step back from his early-season dominance. He’s also been hit hard in his past two spring outings and now has yielded 10 runs (seven earned) on 13 hits and seven walks with 14 strikeouts in 11 1/3 innings.
The sky is the limit for Rodriguez, whom the organization envisions as a potential ace at the front of the starting staff for years to come, but that optimism will also lead to some understandable caution with regard to his 2023 usage.
A couple more notes on the Orioles…
- The O’s are aiming for a July return for left-hander John Means, who’s on the mend from 2022 Tommy John surgery, writes Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com. The southpaw said this week that he’s thrown five or six bullpen sessions so far this spring, and he progressed to throwing his changeup in his most recent effort. Kubatko notes that Means could begin throwing breaking balls in his mound sessions at some point in early April. There’s still a ways to go, as he’ll need to build up to the point where he can throw all of his pitches, then face live hitters, then embark on what’s sure to be a lengthy minor league rehab stint as he builds up to game readiness. Provided the recovery goes according to plan, Means should have a rotation spot waiting for him once he’s ready. The 29-year-old (30 next month) was Baltimore’s best starter when healthy, pitching to a combined 3.72 ERA with a 21.2% strikeout rate and outstanding 5.1% walk rate in 356 2/3 innings from 2019-22.
- Baltimore will get corner outfielder Anthony Santander some reps at first base during the final week of Spring Training, skipper Brandon Hyde announced this morning (via Andy Kostka of the Baltimore Banner). Santander logged four innings at the position early in exhibition play before leaving the club for a few weeks to represent Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic. The 28-year-old has never played the infield in a major league game. Aside from 24 appearances in center back in 2019, he’s played exclusively corner outfield at the big league level. Santander’s only first base experience in a meaningful game came back in 2016, when he made nine appearances there while in High-A. Of course, the O’s aren’t planning to deploy him regularly there over the coming season. He’ll be in right field on most days, with the club hoping he can branch out to offer some cover behind starting first baseman Ryan Mountcastle if needed. Baltimore acquired Ryan O’Hearn and Lewin Diaz as non-roster first base options this offseason, adding some left-handed depth behind the righty-swinging Mountcastle.