Image credit: Grayson Rodriguez (Photo by Cliff Welch)
BEST PURE HITTER: Known mostly for his defensive prowess, SS Cadyn Grenier (1s) had a career offensive year as a junior with Oregon State, hitting .319/.408/.462 with 17 doubles for the College World Series winning Beavers. His pro debut wasn’t encouraging with the bat—he hit .217/.298/.335 in the South Atlantic League—but the Orioles pushed him aggressively as they wanted both Grenier and 2017 second round pick Adam Hall to get regular at-bats and time at shortstop. Grenier started to figure things out towards the end of the season and hit .300/.328/.450 over his last 15 games.
BEST POWER HITTER: OF Robert Neustrom (5) has plus raw power and the ability to go out of the park to all fields. He hit 11 home runs as a junior with Iowa this spring before heading to the New York-Penn League, where he homered four times in 61 games, with 16 doubles. Neustrom never sold out for his power in college, perfectly content to hit the ball the other way into the gap, but he’s starting to lift the ball more.
FASTEST RUNNER: The Orioles see Grenier as a plus-plus runner and believe that speed will play on the bases, though most amateur scouts hesitated to throw a plus tool on him prior to the 2018 draft. He stole just 16 bags in 25 tries (64 percent) in three years in college, and went 3-for-5 this summer in the South Atlantic League.
BEST DEFENSIVE PLAYER: While the grades on his speed vary, no one doubts that Grenier is an immensely capable defender at shortstop, as one of the most consistent and reliable defenders in college last year. He slows the game down well and has an extremely accurate arm, with advanced footwork and reliable hands.
BEST FASTBALL: After overhauling his body last winter, RHP Grayson Rodriguez (1) was the pop-up player of the 2018 draft and went from a low-90s fastball to a heater that was regularly in the 97-98 mph range, with some scouts citing 99 mph. In addition to the high-end velocity, Rodriguez throws the pitch with plenty of downhill life that should give hitters plenty of trouble. The velocity tailed off for him and was more in the 92-94 mph range in 19.1 innings in the Gulf Coast League this summer, where Rodriguez posted a 1.40 ERA with a 9.3 K/9.
BEST SECONDARY PITCH: In addition to his fastball, Rodriguez throws a plus curveball in the 77-80 mph range with standard three-quarter shape and solid depth.
BEST PRO DEBUT: Rodriguez began his career with 12 shutout innings before running into some trouble in his seventh game, and had a solid 20-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio. LHP Drew Rom (4) posted a 1.76 ERA over 30.2 innings in the Gulf Coast League, struck out 28 batters and walked just six.
BEST ATHLETE: Grenier’s smooth athleticism is another factor that adds up to his impressive defensive toolset, with body control that allows him to make difficult plays on the run and throw accurately while off-balance.
MOST INTRIGUING BACKGROUND: The Orioles loved watching the progression of Rodriguez throughout the 2018 draft cycle. The East Texas righthander went from throwing in the lower 90s during the summer of 2017 with a dumpy body to a completely different arm during the spring. He went from not being a premium prep follow to being the one player the scouting department had the most consensus on and becoming the third high school pitcher selected.
CLOSEST TO THE MAJORS: Grenier could take home this category as well, but RHP Blaine Knight (3) could move through the system quickly given his proclivity for throwing strikes and his track record on the mound in the SEC with Arkansas—where he posted a 3.01 ERA with an 8.74 K/9 and 2.11 BB/9 over 250 innings. He threw just 10 innings in the New York Penn League this summer after a long college season, but was successful there (2.61 ERA) as well.
BEST LATE-ROUND PICK: RHP Jake Zebron (18) signed for $125,000 in the 18th round and had a strong debut in the Gulf Coast League this summer, posting a 2.97 ERA over 30.1 innings, primarily coming out of the bullpen. He has a solid, 6-foot-3, 180-pound frame with a lean muscular body who was up to as high as 96 mph during the spring with feel to spin a breaking ball as well. SS Clay Fisher (12) could have gone early on Day 2 if he didn’t have Tommy John surgery that has raised questions about his arm strength that previously graded out as plus. Even if it comes back to just average, Fisher has the tools to stick at shortstop. C Cody Roberts (11) has a carrying tool in a 70-grade arm, with some defensive potential behind the dish, but a long way to go offensively.
THE ONE WHO GOT AWAY: RHP Caleb Killian (20) moved into the rotation during the middle of the season for Texas Tech this spring and ran away with the role with a sinking fastball up to 95 mph and two solid secondaries in a curveball and changeup. The Orioles liked the starter attributes he showed—including improved strike-throwing from his freshman to draft-eligible sophomore season—but he’ll head back to Texas Tech for a junior campaign in a more shallow 2019 pitching class.