A day after top prospect Adley Rutschman made his Orioles debut, executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said more are to come as the organization continues to move forward in the next stage of its reconstruction.
“We have blue skies ahead of us,” Elias said Sunday morning in the Orioles dugout at Camden Yards. “We have a No. 1 farm system. We have a young, talented team in the major leagues. We have payroll flexibility. We are past the pandemic, and there will be more and more people entering the stadium. We are going to renovate this place. There is a lot to look forward to.
Perhaps chief among these is the arrival of more prospects around Rutschman. The Orioles could have had back-to-back starts at Oriole Park, but No. 2 prospect Grayson Rodriguez started for Triple-A Norfolk on Sunday instead. He threw 87 pitches in his previous start – the same eighth-ranked prospect Kyle Bradish hit in his last Triple-A outing before being promoted – but Elias was clear the Orioles feel there are still some left. steps to take for the best throwing hope of the game.
Rodriguez, 22, posted a 2.65 ERA with a 38.5% strikeout rate in his first eight Triple-A starts, throwing beyond the fifth inning three times after making it only once in 2021. The Orioles want to be able to let him loose in the majors, Elias said, while developing his sleeves this year so he can pitch without restrictions in 2023.
“When he comes here, we want him to be able to go throw and help the team and not handcuff the team, and we have to be very careful with this kid’s workload just because of who he is,” said Elias. “He’s getting close to a full buildup. We just want to see him continue on the track that I feel like he’s been on. The last two or three outings have been significantly better in terms of material, location, delivery. I think his last release was kind of vintage Grayson, which was exciting. And I watch every one of his departures very carefully, and I know that we are as an organization.
“Grayson is one of baseball’s most important pitchers, and we want to make sure we handle that responsibly.”
He didn’t elaborate on what they think Rodriguez needs to do to reach the majors, which has been the norm. It wasn’t until Rutschman reached the majors that Elias said the three straight games he grabbed for Norfolk from Tuesday to Thursday was what showed the organization he was ready after having missed time with a strained triceps.
The timing allowed Rutschman to play his first home game, where a boisterous but modest crowd cheered on his every move. Orioles manager Brandon Hyde compared the atmosphere to what he saw as a coach with the Chicago Cubs fanbase when they first promoted rookie of the year and the Most Valuable Player Kris Bryant.
“Once that box was checked, we thought it was a live ball,” Elias said. “And then looking at the schedule, Yankee Stadium didn’t seem like a good option for a start. And it just seemed like he was ready, and this weekend made the most sense. And now he’s going to acquire the experience of going to play at Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park, which is cool for him because that’s life at [American League] Is and then coming back for a great family around Memorial Day, so I think the timing worked out as well as it could have given we were constrained by his injury.
The Orioles are also managing an injury comeback with No. 3 prospect DL Hall, a southpaw who regularly shows above-90s speed in his return from a stress fracture in his elbow. In three starts since joining Norfolk, Hall, 23, has a 6.52 ERA but has struck out more than 30% of the batters he has faced.
“He’s got some stuff that I think Triple-A is going to talk to him about, which is the hitters there, and you saw the line last time, a few steps,” Elias said. “His stuff is amazing. He is healthy. He looks great. He throws harder than ever, but he does it with ease and efficiency.
“He’s looking excellent. I think the mix of good and bad we’ve seen in his performance so far at Norfolk is exactly what I expected, and I think he’s ahead. on the timing and expectations in terms of where he’s entered the year, and those are all good things, healthy things that we’re seeing from him.
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Elias also provided updates on a trio of prospects who are all recovering from hamstring strains.
Outfielder Heston Kjerstad hasn’t played a professional game since the Orioles drafted him second overall in 2020. He was diagnosed with myocarditis (heart inflammation) shortly after signing with Baltimore, then suffered left hamstring strain this spring when he finally seemed to be at Full Health.
Elias said Kjerstad, 23, will begin playing in extended spring training games “as early as next week,” with the possibility of him playing in Florida Complex League games when those begin next month. .
“Our goal is to get him to [Low-A] Delmarva this summer,” Elias said. “I don’t know exactly when it will happen. But he’s doing well with the hamstrings and the other stuff he’s been through.
Last week, outfielder Yusniel Diaz suffered a recurrence of a sprained right hamstring that cost around three weeks earlier this season. When on the court, he performed well for Norfolk, posting a .934 OPS. Once rated the Orioles’ top prospect after coming to Baltimore as part of Manny Machado’s trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers, Diaz, 25, missed time with lower-body injuries in each of three recent minor league seasons.
“I don’t know what to say other than it stinks,” Elias said. “This is difficult news. Once you have them, they sometimes become more likely to spawn, and he’s a jumpy, explosive guy, and that kind of stuff happens, but it really hinders his ability to get going and make himself relevant to the major league team. I’m not ruling anything out, but it’s a big setback in time, and we’re just going to keep working with him and get him back there, and hopefully, maybe in the second half he can get up here because his time is running late. .”
Triple A second baseman Terrin Vavra, 25, has fully recovered from his right hamstring strain and is in a period of preparation, Elias said. He will go to a lower branch for a rehabilitation mission before joining Norfolk.