Like all athletes right now, prospects in the Orioles organization are looking for unique ways to stay in baseball shape while stuck inside their own homes. Luckily for top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez, staying at home still means access to a baseball field.
Baseball America spoke with Rodriguez on their podcast about life under quarantine and what he's been doing to stay ready for the eventual return of the season. The question of what he can do to mimic actually being on a baseball diamond was answered quickly: he doesn't have to.
"We got a lot of space to do things," Rodriguez explained while describing his family's land in East Texas. "When I was 7 years old my dad built a baseball league behind our house, and we have a bullpen set up for me."
The 35th-ranked prospect in all of Minor League Baseball, Rodriguez is coming off a terrific first full season. He went 10-4 with a 2.68 ERA at Low-A Delmarva, flashing command of his mid-90s fastball, improving offspeed pitches and displaying a great physical and mental makeup.
The issue facing Rodriguez, and countless others, is how to maintain momentum in his development without being with his trainers during what he calls "Offseason, Phase 2."
"It’s tough," he said, a sentiment echoed several times throughout the interview. "Your pitching coach is like your best friend, he knows you just about as well as you know yourself. And having that extra set of eyes on you when you’re throwing a bullpen, sometimes it’s tough when you’re out there throwing and something’s not working right, you can’t figure out what it is, and having somebody else there that knows you and knows your delivery, to be able to see you and tell you, fix what’s going on... I mean it’s tough, but at the same time, we’re still able to get stuff done over video."
Like many organizations, the Orioles have turned to video to stay connected. In the case of their players, it's also to give them access to coaches.
"Our communication has been great. We’ve had lots of Zoom meetings like I’m sure everyone has. We have one-on-one meetings with our coaches, being able to send them videos and stuff," he continued. "I actually have a couple video cameras at the house that I’ve been using to be able to video my bullpens, like pitch design, pitch shape, being able to see the ball release out of the hand...being able to use different tools to be able to keep my game in check."
That communication has also extended to workouts, though Rodriguez explains the Orioles have allowed him, and others, the flexibility to work on what they feel least comfortable with. One thing Rodriguez has always done is turn to long toss sessions to build his arm strength. That's something he's been able to do with his younger brother, though the two aren't exactly evenly matched at the moment.
"Lucky for me I have a little brother who’s 12 years old, and I’m able to play catch with him every day. He can’t catch my bullpens," Rodriguez said with a laugh."But you know playing catch is a big part. Happy to have him around."
His brother was on the receiving end of one famous toss when Rodriguez launched a ball over a large pond on his family's land.
Rodriguez's dad built not only the baseball field and bullpen in their backyard, but also built strike zone targets for practice, something that's helped the pitcher focus on hitting his spots without a hitter in the box.
"I feel like my dad can build anything," Rodriguez praises. "All these training tools he’s come up with I feel like he could get a patent and sell them."
Sometimes, though, his dad will help with the mental side of things as well, by calling out a pitcher or standing behind the screen to be an umpire, even though he "tends to get a little tight" with his strike zone, something Rodriguez knows is probably a good thing.
As blessed as Rodriguez knows he is to have his family helping him out, he also knows he got lucky in another way: not having to go through the draft process while under quarantine.
Rodriguez himself was a late riser, someone who was never considered a future first-round pick until after his senior season. That's an opportunity that won't be afforded to any seniors in the class of 2020, something that isn't lost on him.
"I would not have been taken anywhere near where I was without my senior high school season," he admits. "You really feel for those high school seniors, especially those guys that really had a shot at proving themselves. It’s kind of tough because the draft is just a lifechanging experience. And some of those guys that won’t get to experience it because of this pandemic that’s going on. You have to stop and think and feel for those guys because it’s tough. If this happened my senior year I’d be in College Station right now, without a doubt. It’s just very unfortunate."
Rodriguez, who has also taken to late-night broadcasts of the KBO just to get his baseball fix, sums it up best with the way most fans feel too.
"I don’t know, you just miss it," he said. "That’s really all I can say."
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