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Baltimore Orioles

Orioles add Grayson Rodriguez, 4 other prospects to 40-man roster for Rule 5 draft protection

If not for a right lat strain that derailed his season, Grayson Rodriguez likely would have already made the Orioles’ 40-man roster and his major debut.

The former at last happened Tuesday, positioning him for the latter out of spring training. Baltimore added Rodriguez, baseball’s top minor league pitcher, and four other prospects to its 40-man roster, protecting them against the possibility of being selected by another organization in next month’s Rule 5 draft. Right-hander Seth Johnson, shortstop Joey Ortiz, left-hander Drew Rom and right-hander Noah Denoyer joined Rodriguez in being added ahead of Tuesday evening’s deadline.

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Players signed in 2018 who were 18 or younger or in 2019 at 19 or older left off an organization’s 40-man roster will be made available in the Rule 5 draft; any player selected must remain on their new club’s major league roster for the whole season or be offered back to their original team. By protecting five players, the Orioles leave one opening on their 40-man roster, which could be used to make their own selection in the Rule 5 draft or easily make external additions.

“I hope he makes our opening day rotation,” executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said last month of top Orioles pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez above, “and I think that’s a very high likelihood.”

Rodriguez, who turns 23 on Wednesday, was trending toward a major league promotion in June when he suffered a Grade 2 strain in his latissimus dorsi muscle. He did not return until three months later, and although he managed to rejoin Triple-A Norfolk before the season ended, the Orioles elected not to promote him. Baltimore’s selection with the 11th overall pick in the 2018 draft, he ended the year with a 2.62 ERA in 17 starts. Among pitchers who threw at least 55 innings in Triple-A, his 35.8% strikeout rate at that level trailed only left-hander DL Hall, Baltimore’s No. 2 pitching prospect.

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“I hope he makes our opening day rotation,” executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said last month, “and I think that’s a very high likelihood.”

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Johnson was acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays in the three-team trade that sent longtime Oriole Trey Mancini to the Houston Astros. Tampa Bay’s 40th overall pick in the 2019 draft, the 24-year-old underwent Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery shortly after the deal, though the injury was known in advance and was a factor in why Baltimore was able to acquire a player who ranks as its No. 10 prospect according to Baseball America. He’s third among the organization’s pitchers behind Rodriguez and Hall, both former first-round draft picks.

Perhaps the top defensive infield prospect in the Orioles’ system, Joey Ortiz’s bat took off midseason.

Perhaps the top defensive infield prospect in the Orioles’ system, Ortiz’s bat took off midseason. At the end of June, the 2019 fourth-round pick’s on-base and slugging percentages added up to .596, but Ortiz slugged .610 through the end of the season, closing the year with a strong month in Triple-A. From July 1 on, Ortiz hit .352 with an OPS of 1.026, 15 home runs and 42 strikeouts against 32 walks.

Like Rodriguez, Rom was a pitcher taken out of high school in 2018, going to Baltimore in the fourth round. Despite lacking top-tier velocity, Rom has pitched effectively throughout his career. He reached Triple-A in 2022, posting a 4.43 ERA between there and Double-A while leading the farm system with 120 innings and 144 strikeouts. Among the 110 minor leaguers who threw as many innings as Rom, only 10 allowed fewer home runs per inning than the 22-year-old.

Denoyer signed with Baltimore after he wasn’t selected in 2019, the most recent 40-round draft. He has since spent his career showing that he was overlooked. Working mostly as a bulk reliever, the 24-year-old has a 2.87 ERA in 147 1/3 innings since signing with Baltimore, reaching Double-A. In 21 appearances in 2022, he had a 2.89 ERA while striking out 35.5% of opposing batters, the third-best rate in the system behind Hall and Rodriguez. He did that while walking only 6.1% of hitters, with his difference between those percentages being the second best of all minor leaguers with at least 70 innings pitched.

With Adley Rutschman and Kyle Stowers already added and promoted during the season, Ortiz was the only member of the Orioles’ 2019 draft class — Elias’ first with Baltimore — to be protected Tuesday. All of the other collegiate players in that draft class, including third-round pick Zach Watson and sixth-rounder Maverick Handley, are eligible for the Rule 5 draft. Fifth-round pick Darell Hernaiz, selected out of a Texas high school, won’t need protection until next year, as would have been the case for Gunnar Henderson had the Orioles not called up their top prospect in August.

Although the Orioles protected Johnson, they left exposed two other right-handers they acquired via trade who required Tommy John surgery. Zach Peek and Kyle Brnovich, half of the four pitchers Baltimore received from the Los Angeles Angels in December 2019 for Dylan Bundy, both showed a propensity for strikeouts before their elbow injuries.


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