The top pitching prospect in baseball is being called up for his big-league debut Wednesday.
So why am I not more excited for Grayson Rodriguez?
I can think of three reasons:
- There was an expectation he'd make the roster out of spring training, and though he didn't, this arrival is coming so soon after the fact that it's as if he did. We were already so accustomed to the idea of him being in the rotation that it feels like he's debuted already.
- Let's not overlook why he didn't make the team initially. He was shaky in spring training, delivering a 7.04 ERA and 1.57 WHIP across five starts. And then in a minor-league start Friday, he issued four walks while recording just two strikeouts. Is he really in a place right now to take on a big-league lineup for the first time?
- Pitching has been so miserable so far that it almost feels like talent is irrelevant and nothing really matters on that side of the game. I acknowledge that it's way too early in the year for that level of nihilism, but alas, here we are.
Having said all that, I should at least feign enthusiasm because, gosh darn it, this is the best pitching prospect in baseball!
BAL Baltimore • #30 • Age: 23
Indeed, Grayson Rodriguez wasn't good enough this spring to win the job the Orioles had already set aside for him. "I wasn't expecting this, and we were hoping that he would show up as a better version of himself than I think we got here," GM Mike Elias said at the end of spring training. On the other hand, Rodriguez is clearly the best pitching prospect in baseball and has been two years running. His minor-league track record is ridiculous, and his arsenal is stuffed with so many plus pitches that you wonder how he gets to them all. He's the model of an ace, and whatever happened to him in spring training will quickly be forgotten if he carves up the Rangers in his debut. No matter your reservations, you don't pass up talent this big.
ATL Atlanta • #16 • Age: 34
At 76 percent, Travis d'Arnaud is rostered in enough leagues already that featuring him as a possible waiver wire pickup may seem like a waste. But the point is he's shaping up to be a top-10 catcher rather easily with as much as the Braves are using him -- and quite unexpectedly, I might add. The expectation was that he'd become something like a glorified backup with the acquisition of Sean Murphy, but the Braves seem to value his bat so much that he's started every game so far, splitting his time between catcher and DH. He's playing more than the average catcher, not less, and producing at a level that justifies it (as he has two of the past three years).
TOR Toronto • #16 • Age: 32
At first glance, Yusei Kikuchi's performance Tuesday wasn't so impressive. Against a weak Royals lineup, he struck out only two in five innings after striking out 31 in 20 2/3 innings this spring. But he did have a 13 percent swinging-strike rate, which would certainly rank among the league leaders if he can sustain it, and there's reason to believe he can even apart from what he did in spring training. His velocity was up Tuesday, 1.3 mph on his fastball and 1.9 on his slider, and his pitch selection was also improved. The fastball that got hit so hard last year he threw only 36 percent of the time rather than 50 percent, and in its place were more changeups, a pitch that yielded a .116 batting average last year.
MIL Milwaukee • #5 • Age: 25
Garrett Mitchell was one of my favorite late-round outfield targets during draft season, so of course I'll use his two-homer game Tuesday as an opportunity to sing his praises. His supposed fatal flaw is that he can't access his raw power because of a swing that's geared for ground balls, presumably to take advantage of his 80-grade speed. But between last year, spring training and now this year, he's up to eight home runs in 45 major-league games after hitting 13 in 132 career minor-league games. Seems like more than enough power for a guy whose primary strength is his speed. Mitchell has yet to steal a base this year, but he was 8 for 8 in 28 games last year, and as you may have heard, stealing bases is easier now.
Kenta Maeda SP
MIN Minnesota • #18 • Age: 35
Apart from Grayson Rodriguez, Kenta Maeda is the top pitcher to target off the waiver wire Wednesday following his brilliant performance Tuesday. Making his first official start after a long recovery from Tommy John surgery, the 34-year-old struck out nine and walked none, which is especially notable since control issues this spring are what scared me away. Maeda collected 17 whiffs on just 79 pitches in this one, and the two he threw most were the slider and splitter, just like before the injury. They're known to be especially taxing on the elbow, so it's telling that he didn't shrink away. His stuff never seemed right in 2021, so the hope is the 2020 version shows up again.
MIN Minnesota • #9 • Age: 26
Trevor Larnach wasn't expected to crack the Twins' Opening Day roster, but after injuries to Alex Kirilloff and Jorge Polanco, they found themselves without a starting left fielder. The way he's going now, he might just claim that job forever. We've seen flashes from him in the past. He has always delivered premium exit velocities and was batting .299 with an .890 OPS through two months last year before a core muscle injury brought him down. Most impressive this year is how the plate discipline has improved, beginning with him striking out just seven times in 40 plate appearances this spring (while batting .351 with four home runs). If Larnach is striking out closer to 20 percent than 30 percent of the time, big things could be in store.
SF San Francisco • #26 • Age: 33
It's easy to forget after he had a 6.63 ERA in five starts last year, but Anthony DeSclafani was one of the biggest finds among starting pitchers in 2021, going 13-7 with a 3.17 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 8.2 K/9. Though there's no erasing what happened in 2022, it's probably best to treat it like a lost season given that his ankle was messed up from the beginning and ultimately required season-ending surgery. He had an encouraging enough spring that the Giants awarded him a rotation spot over Sean Manaea, and his first start Monday looked much like the ones we saw over and over again in 2021.
MIL Milwaukee • #9 • Age: 30
OK, so I'm not as keen on Brian Anderson as others seem to be due to his uninspiring track record, both in terms of production and Statcast data. But with his two-homer game Tuesday, there's no denying he's off to a great start, and the two positions where he's eligible, third base and outfield, happen to be the two that are most difficult to fill. Maybe the move from Miami to Milwaukee, which is about as favorable as it gets, will unlock something new. It's also worth pointing out that his 2021 and 2022 were both wrecked by injuries. Go back before then, and the data looks better, particularly with regard to exit velocity.