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Orioles add top pitching prospect Rodriguez, four others to 40-man roster ahead of Rule 5 draft

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Luke Jones
Luke Jones
Luke Jones is the Ravens and Orioles beat reporter for WNST BaltimorePositive.com and is a PFWA member. His mind is consumed with useless sports knowledge, pro wrestler promos, and movie quotes, but he struggles to remember where he put his phone. Luke's favorite sports memories include being one of the thousands of kids who waited to get Cal Ripken's autograph after Orioles games in the summer of 1995, attending the Super Bowl XXXV victory parade with his father in the pouring rain, and watching the Terps advance to the Final Four at the Carrier Dome in 2002. Follow him on Twitter @BaltimoreLuke or email him at Luke@wnst.net.

Top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez missed out on making his major league debut in 2022, but he’s now officially part of the Orioles’ 40-man roster.

With Tuesday being the deadline to protect prospects eligible for next month’s Rule 5 draft, general manager Mike Elias selected the contracts of Rodriguez, fellow right-handed starter Seth Johnson, shortstop Joey Ortiz, lefty starter Drew Rom, and right-handed reliever Noah Denoyer. That leaves 39 players on Baltimore’s 40-man roster.

Turning 23 on Wednesday, Rodriguez is widely regarded as the best pitching prospect in baseball and was all but guaranteed to make his major league debut this past summer before suffering a Grade 2 right lat strain in early June. The 2018 first-round pick out of Nacogdoches, Texas returned to pitch in six games in September — three with Triple-A Norfolk — and is regarded as a strong candidate to make the 2023 major league rotation out of spring training. Rodriguez pitched to a 2.20 ERA in 69 2/3 innings and averaged 12.5 strikeouts per nine frames at the Triple-A level in 2022.

Acquired in the Trey Mancini deal, Johnson is Baltimore’s No. 10 prospect in the MLB.com rankings. The 24-year-old underwent Tommy John surgery shortly after the trade was completed and is unlikely to pitch in 2023, but the Orioles regard Johnson as having high-end starter potential, explaining why they wanted to protect him from being taken in the Rule 5 draft. Johnson was a 2019 first-round pick out of Campbell University and posted a 2.88 ERA and struck out 11 batters per nine frames in 93 2/3 innings at Low-A Charleston in 2021.

Ortiz, 24, enjoyed a breakout 2022 that began at Double-A Bowie and continued with a slash line of .346/.400/.567 and 13 extra-bate hits in 115 plate appearances at Norfolk. His defense was highly regarded upon being selected in the fourth round of the 2019 draft out of New Mexico State, but an improving bat has put him firmly on the major league radar for 2023. He is the Orioles’ No. 17 prospect, according to MLB.com.

A 2018 fourth-round pick out of Fort Thomas, Kentucky, Rom turns 23 next month and posted a 4.43 ERA in 120 innings split between Bowie and Norfolk last year. With most of that work coming at Double-A, Rom is expected to begin the 2023 season in the Tides rotation, but his 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings this past season will make him an arm to watch. He is MLB.com’s No. 19 Orioles prospect.

The most surprising of Baltimore’s 40-man roster additions, Denoyer, 24, was an undrafted signing in 2019 and has pitched well at every level of his professional career, which included a 2.61 ERA and 12.0 strikeout rate in 51 2/3 innings at Bowie this past season. He also pitched to a 4.50 ERA in 20 innings in the Arizona Fall League, which allowed plenty of teams to take a long look at him and may have factored into the Orioles wanting to protect him. This isn’t the first time Elias has protected a below-the-radar pitcher after the Orioles added relievers Felix Bautista and Logan Gillaspie to their 40-man roster last offseason.

The most notable Rule 5-eligible prospect to go unprotected was probably 24-year-old catcher Maverick Handley, a strong defensive player who batted .236 with a .769 on-base plus slugging percentage at Bowie in 2022. Handley is a 2019 sixth-round pick out of Stanford.

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