The Orioles predicted an early run on position players in this year’s Major League Baseball first-year player draft, and that’s the way the first 10 picks played out Monday night, giving the Orioles a deep list of talented starting-pitching options to choose from with the No. 11 overall pick.
A few pitchers projected to go in the top-10 were surprisingly available, and while Texas high school right-hander Grayson Rodriguez wasn’t in that group, he was the Orioles’ top target going into the draft, and they selected the senior from Central Heights High School in Nacogdoches, Texas, with their first-round pick.
“He was the consensus pick for us in the first round,” Orioles scouting director Gary Rajsich said. “We love him and we were just thrilled he was there for us at pick 11. … The first thing you notice is that he’s got a big, strong, durable body and he’s an advanced high school pitcher that is a unique combination of power and polish. That attracts you right away. … He’s got a good advanced delivery that he can repeat. His arm action is nice and clean and the ball comes out of his hand very well. He’s got advanced command of four pitches and he just pounds the strike zone.”
With their highest selection in six years, the Orioles continued their trend of taking pitchers early. The Orioles have now drafted a pitcher with their first-round pick in six of their past seven opportunities: Dylan Bundy (2011), Kevin Gausman (2012), Hunter Harvey (2013), Cody Sedlock (2016), DL Hall (2017) and Rodriguez. The Orioles didn’t have a first-round pick in 2014 and took outfielder DJ Stewart in 2015. For the second straight year, the Orioles used their first pick on a high school pitcher.
They also selected Oregon State shortstop Cadyn Grenier at No. 37 overall, their only other first-day pick.
The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Rodriguez made dramatic strides over the past year, and Baseball America called him the biggest “pop-up” player in this year’s draft. He finished his senior season as the top draft prospect in the baseball-rich state of Texas.
“It was unbelievable,” said Rodriguez, who was the third high school pitcher and fourth pitcher overall to come off the board. “Going into the draft, I wasn’t real sure what was going to happen, but when I heard my name called at pick 11, it was almost like my heart stopped. It was just an amazing feeling. I’ve accomplished one of my childhood goals, but I’m definitely not done yet.”
Over the summer, Rodriguez’s fastball was in the low 90s, but in the offseason before his senior season, he put on 20 pounds of muscle, and come spring, his saw his fastball hit 97-98 mph regularly, with late life. His four-pitch arsenal includes two breaking balls that can miss bats — a slider and a curveball — and a still-developing changeup that he didn’t have to use much at the high school level.
From September until high school practice began in January, Rodriguez said he trained two to three times a week at a facility in Tyler, Texas — about 90 minutes away from his hometown — where big leaguers such as Brandon Belt and Josh Tomlin and top prospect Michael Kopech trained in the offseason. Before the season, he went 2½ hours south to Houston to work with a pitching coach there to refine his mechanics. Once he began preparing for the season, he noticed a change right away.
“The ball just felt different coming out of my hand,” Rodriguez said. “I really don’t know how to describe it. It was just jumping out of my hand. It feels like half the effort it did before to throw it as hard as I wanted to. I definitely didn’t have to try to throw hard. It just came a lot more natural.”
The Orioles were extremely impressed. The team’s area scout Thom Dreier kept in constant contact, and Rodriguez noticed him at all of his games.
“All of us that watched him this spring, he was a consistent performer,” Rajsich said. “We just love the competitor in him. We like the way he handles it. He’s got poise and composure on the mound. He’s just out there to take care of business and we like that compete factor.”
Seven of the first 10 selections Monday were position players, leaving several top pitching prospects on the board for the Orioles, including top-10 players such as Florida right-hander Brady Singer, Arizona high school left-hander Matthew Liberatore and California high school right-hander Cole Winn. Rodriguez was rated the 24th-best draft prospect by Baseball America. The outlet’s final mock draft had Rodriguez going to the Tampa Bay Rays at No. 31 overall.
“We were pretty confident in the first three or four picks. We knew what they were going to be,” Rajsich said. “But between there and our pick I thought there were two surprises, but we’re just thrilled Grayson was there for us, because he was our target.”
Rodriguez is committed to play at Texas A&M — he signed his letter of intent to pitch for the Aggies in the fall — but as the 11th pick, he is slotted a bonus value of $4.3751 million. Asked Monday whether he would sign, he sounded eager to turn pro.
“I want to get it done as soon as we can, go out there to [the Orioles’ spring training home in Sarasota,] Florida, get a uniform on and start pitching,” he said. “I’m ready.”
Rajsich said Sunday that the club would select the best available player. They’d spent recent days attempting to predict the constantly changing trajectory of the top 10 picks. Rajsich said the Orioles believed they knew how the top five picks would play out, but picking the next five weren’t as clear.
In selecting Grenier, the Orioles addressed one of their biggest organizational holes: middle-infield depth. They took the defensive-minded Grenier with their second pick of the night, a Competitive Balance Round A selection that came after the first round and the compensation round. Grenier, a 5-foot-11, 188-pound junior, was the Pac-12 Conference Defensive Player of the Year after making just six errors and posting a .971 fielding percentage through the start of the NCAA tournament.
Grenier is hitting .328/.415/.478 with 23 extra-base hits (16 doubles, two triples, five homers) in 58 games for an Oregon State team ranked the No. 3 overall seed in the NCAA tournament and set to play in the super regionals this week. Grenier, whom the St. Louis Cardinals drafted in 2015 out of Bishop Gorman High School, just outside Las Vegas, was the third Oregon State player to be drafted Monday.
He said he didn’t have much contact with the Orioles throughout the scouting process.
“Honestly, it was the same way out of high school. I hadn't talked to the Cardinals all that much, and all of a sudden, they popped out of nowhere and offered me,” Grenier said on a conference call Monday night. “But I hadn't really talked to the Orioles very much at all this year. Just the normal meeting with area [scout] and all that. But it wasn't anything like, 'Hey, I'm checking in every week because I want you to know that we're really interested.' All of a sudden, something went right for my case. They popped up and took advantage.”
Grenier, whose pick has a slotted bonus value of $1.9235 million, said “there’s obviously a really good chance that I’m going to sign, without a doubt.”
"This is something I was looking forward to,” he added.
The next eight rounds will take place Tuesday, and the draft will conclude with rounds 11-40 on Wednesday.