Orioles

Orioles' top pitching prospects among MLB's best

Orioles

When Mike Elias took the reigns of the Orioles front office a little over two years ago, his self-stated goal was to build a sustainable talent pipeline throughout the entire organization.

The contending O's from 2012-16 had spent most of their resources on the big league club, sometimes neglecting the minor league system, and it has been Elias' mission ever since to rebuild the talent level from top to bottom.

According to at least some talent evaluators, he's off to a strong start.

This week, MLB Pipeline has been releasing its top 10 prospects at various positions, ahead of the unveiling of their overall top 100 prospects list. The Orioles have already been well-represented in each of the first two positions announced - right handed pitchers, and left-handed pitchers.

On Wednesday, the southpaws were released, with 2017 first-round pick DL Hall coming in at No. 9. Hall is a lefty with a terrific upper-90s fastball and a strong curveball, in addition to a developing changeup. Hall's stuff is excellent across the board, though he has struggled to hone his command in the lower levels of the minors.

Even with high walk totals, Hall's talent is enough to earn him recognition from both MLB Pipeline and Baseball America, where he was listed as the 59th-overall prospect in all of baseball earlier this week.

In the eyes of O's fans, Hall will hopefully be paired one day with right-handed pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez at the top of the rotation. MLB Pipeline released their top 10 right-handed pitchers on Tuesday, with Rodriguez slotting in at No. 7.

 

The future looks even brighter for Rodriguez, who came in at 22nd in Baseball America's overall rankings. He was the Orioles' top pick in the 2018 MLB Draft, a late-rising high schooler from Texas who boasted a great frame and a strong mid-to-upper-90s fastball of his own.

Since entering the organization, Rodriguez's stock has only continued to rise. His changeup now rivals his fastball for his best pitch, and is considered perhaps the best changeup of any right-handed pitcher in the minors, according to MLB Pipeline. 

Rodriguez was given even more praise from MLB Pipeline when they gave him the superlative of highest ceiling among the top 10 right-handed pitching prospects in baseball, a huge compliment considering the talent ahead of him in the current rankings.

"Rodriguez’s size, stuff, feel for pitching and age (he’ll be 21 for all of 2021) make it easy to imagine the 2018 first-rounder topping this list in the future," said Jonathan Mayo of MLB Pipeline.

Rodriguez and Hall are both aided by their ages - neither is expected to crack the big leagues until 2022, while most of their contemporaries are scheduled to be promoted in 2021. That means both pitchers should be expected to rise in these types of rankings over the course of the 2021 season as their fellow prospects become Major League pitchers. In fact, Rodriguez is the highest-rated righty with a Major League ETA later than 2021, while Hall is the second-highest southpaw.

The Orioles have had top pitching prospects before, most recently when Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman were both consensus top-25 overall prospects in baseball in the early part of last decade. Pitching prospects are notoriously fickle, and there's no guarantee Rodriguez and Hall end up any better as big leaguers than Bundy or Gausman were - especially considering the added difficulties of pitching in the AL East.

But for now, it's exciting for O's fans to see their growing farm system continue to gain national recognition. They are quickly becoming one of the better system in baseball, and are one of only three franchises to have a pitcher on both of MLB Pipeline's top 10 lists so far.

Rodriguez and Hall were actually drafted under the previous regime in Baltimore, but the bulk of their development has come since Elias took over and revamped the organization's pitching program alongside Chris Holt, now the Orioles' pitching coach.

It's particularly impressive, considering high school pitchers are perhaps the trickiest draftees to project and are generally considered high-risk, high-reward players, especially when drafted outside the top 10 picks as Rodriguez (11th) and Hall (21st) were.

If Rodriguez and Hall can even come close to reaching their high ceilings, the Orioles will be that much closer to their next competitive team, and the organization's gamble will have paid off in spades.