Jake Odorizzi: Ready for a Rotation Spot in 2013?

Jamie Squire

Ray Guilfoyle discusses Royals top pitching prospect Jake Odorizzi and answers the question on whether he is ready for a rotation spot in Kansas City.

Jake Odorizzi was drafted in the first round of the 2008 MLB Draft by the Milwaukee Brewers. He pitched in rookie ball in 2008 and 2009 making 14 starts, appearing in a total of 23 games and throwing just 67 innings. In those 67 innings, he struck on 62 and walked 18, but was hittable, giving up 73 hits and 31 earned runs. His performance in rookie ball made one wonder why he was drafted in the first round.

Fast forward to 2010, and the Brewers start him in the Low A Midwest League where he went 7-3 with a 3.43 ERA, a 2.93 FIP, a 1.152 WHIP and a 135-40 strikeout to walk ratio in 120.2 innings. He struck out more than 10 batters per nine innings, while walking just under 3 batters per nine, so he showed why the Brewers selected him in the first round two years prior.

In the winter of 2010, Odorizzi was part of the package of prospects the Brewers included in a deal for Royals ace Zack Greinke. Before I look at his 2011 and 2012 seasons, here are his career minor league stats, courtesy of Baseball Reference:

2008 18 Brewers ARIZ 1 2 3.48 11 4 20.2 18 10 8 2 9 19 1.306 7.8 0.9 3.9 8.3 2.11
2009 19 Helena PION 1 4 4.40 12 10 47.0 55 27 23 3 9 43 1.362 10.5 0.6 1.7 8.2 4.78
2010 20 Wisconsin MIDW 7 3 3.43 23 20 120.2 99 52 46 7 40 135 1.152 7.4 0.5 3.0 10.1 3.38
2011 21 2 Teams 2 Lgs 10 7 3.73 27 27 147.0 134 68 61 17 44 157 1.211 8.2 1.0 2.7 9.6 3.57
2011 21 Wilmington CARL 5 4 2.87 15 15 78.1 68 30 25 4 22 103 1.149 7.8 0.5 2.5 11.8 4.68
2011 21 Northwest Arkansas TL 5 3 4.72 12 12 68.2 66 38 36 13 22 54 1.282 8.7 1.7 2.9 7.1 2.45
2012 22 2 Teams 2 Lgs 15 5 3.03 26 25 145.1 132 56 49 14 50 135 1.252 8.2 0.9 3.1 8.4 2.70
2012 22 Northwest Arkansas TL 4 2 3.32 7 7 38.0 27 15 14 2 10 47 0.974 6.4 0.5 2.4 11.1 4.70
2012 22 Omaha PCL 11 3 2.93 19 18 107.1 105 41 35 12 40 88 1.351 8.8 1.0 3.4 7.4 2.20
5 Seasons 34 21 3.50 99 86 480.2 438 213 187 43 152 489 1.227 8.2 0.8 2.8 9.2 3.22
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/3/2012.

The Royals elected to have him start the 2011 season at High A Wilmington, where he dominated Carolina League hitters, going 5-4 with a 2.87 ERA, 1.149 WHIP, and an excellent 4.68 K/BB ratio. In his 15 starts, he struck out just under 12 batters per nine innings while walking just 2.5 batters per nine. The dominant performance earned him a promotion to Double A Northwest Arkansas where Texas League hitters found him to be a bit more hittable. Odorizzi went 5-3 with a 4.72 ERA and a 1.282 WHIP. He was more prone to the long ball as he gave up 13 home runs on 68.2 innings. In addition to the spike in home runs allowed, he gave up just 4 in 78.1 innings in High A, Odorizzi's strikeout rate plummeted from 11.8 K/9 to 7.1 K/9. His walk rate stayed relatively the same at 2.9 BB/9.

Heading into the 2012 season, John ranked Odorizzi as his 4th overall Royals prospect back in October 2011 and had this to say about him:

4) Jake Odorizzi, RHP, Grade B+: He has been a favorite of mine for three years and I see no reason to change that opinion, although he needs to work a bit lower in the zone.

John's comment about working lower in the zone was accurate as Odorizzi's home run rate jumped with the move to AA. After his struggles in AA, the Royals elected to keep him in AA to start the 2012 season. But his stay in AA proved to be short-lived as he showed he could dominate hitters again in his 7 starts with Northwest Arkansas. In those 7 starts, Odoriizzi went 4-2 with a 3.32 ERA, 0.974 WHIP, and just 2 home runs allowed in 38 innings. His strikeout rate jumped to 11.1 and his walk rate remained in the low 2 range.

The Royals felt he was ready for a challenge and promoted him to AAA in mid-May. He made 18 starts for AAA Omaha, going 11-3 with a 2.94 ERA and a 1.351 WHIP in 107.1 innings. The Pacific Coast League was not kind to him as his home run rate jumped to just over a home run every nine innings. The PCL league is well know for being a hitter's league, so most probably expected the home runs to jump with the move up to AAA.

He lasted 6 or more innings in 10 of his 19 starts, giving up 3 or more runs in 11 of those starts. Of pitchers with 100 or more innings pitched in the PCL last year, his HR/9 of 1.01 ranked in the bottom half for all starters. Without knowing which PCL ballparks are hitter's havens and which are not, as a comparison, Shelby Miller's HR/9 was 1.58 in his 136.2 innings of work in 2012. So, while Odorizzi's HR rate jumped with the move to AAA, his home runs allowed were not horrible. His 2.93 ERA was the best amongst starters with 100+ innings pitched in 2012.

With all that said, he seems to require an adjustment period with moves to higher levels in the minors, and i expect the same with his eventual move to the big leagues. His home run rate could drop a bit with the move to more of a pitcher's park in Kaufmann Stadium.

The real question is: is he ready for a spot in the Kansas City rotation in 2013? This question will be best answered in the coming months as GM Dayton Moore has made bolstering the Royals staff this offseason his number one priority. I would not be surprised to see Odorizzi start the season in AAA with a call up in May, or June at the latest.

What do Minor League Ball readers think? Should Moore give Odorizzi a spot in the rotation out of spring training in 2013? Or does he need a bit more seasoning in AAA?

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