Orioles have top pitching prospect in minors after Baseball America update

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Orioles now have the top pitching prospect in baseball originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

The Orioles have enjoyed quite a turnaround in their farm system since general manager Mike Elias and company took over the front office after the 2018 season.

In that time, they have jumped from a bottom-five minor league system to one of the top 10 in baseball according to most evaluators. That massive leap has been keyed by development from players at all levels, trades that added depth to the system and, of course, the addition of Adley Rutschman with the top pick in the 2019 draft.

But perhaps the most exciting development has come from the organization's top young pitchers. The Orioles have a long history of struggling to develop their young arms with pitchers like Brian Matusz and Matt Hobgood flaming out entirely while starters like Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy and Jake Arrieta failed to break out until catching on with other franchises.

This time around, Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall, first-round picks in 2018 and 2017, respectively, are the crown jewels of the O's pitching development program. Rodriguez, in particular, has had a stellar start to his season. And he was rewarded for it by the talent evaluators at Baseball America.

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Rodriguez jumped from 17th overall in the previous ranking to No. 11 and the BA Top 10 consisting entirely of position players, Rodriguez's jump makes him the respected publication's top pitching prospect in all of minor league baseball.

The Orioles had four other minor leaguers join Rodriguez, including Rutschman (No. 2), Hall (No. 44), Heston Kjerstad (No. 77) and Gunnar Henderson (No. 89). It's the same group of five players as the last update from Baseball America, with Rodriguez and Hall moving up and Kjerstad moving down. Rutschman and Henderson stayed roughly the same.

Rodriguez has made a remarkable leap for a player who was a late riser and considered a reach with that 11th pick in the 2018 draft. But he has looked every bit the real deal since coming to Baltimore, and evaluators are more impressed than ever.

He has always had a dominant fastball, but it appears Rodriguez's time at the team's alternate training site in 2020 during the missed minor league system had a positive impact on the development of his secondary offerings. His slider has long been reported as the better of his two breaking balls, but since 2019 his curveball has turned into something closer than average. It's the sudden development of his changeup, however, that has helped Rodriguez go from a great pitching prospect to the best in baseball.

BA's evaluators gave Rodriguez high marks across the board. On the 20-80 scouting scale, where 50 is Major League average, they gave Rodriguez a 70 fastball, 50 curveball, 60 slider, 55 changeup and 60 control.

That's a four-pitch mix that ranges from average to elite. It's no wonder they are so high on his future. 

"Rodriguez is the foremost piece of the Orioles’ pitching-driven rebuilding plan," Baseball America wrote. "He has a chance to be at least a mid-rotation starter and has countless top-of-the-rotation traits."