Jake Odorizzi makes his first start for the Tampa Bay Rays today. He's been in the consciousness of the prospect world for several years, but he has little left to prove in the minor leagues and his time is now. What can we expect? Let's take a look with Odo as today's Minor League Ball Prospect of the Day.
Jake Odorizzi was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the supplemental first round in 2008, from high school in Highland, Illinois. He was a multi-sport athletic star as a prep and was a prospect as a shortstop as well as a pitcher, testimony to his overall athleticism. The Brewers were cautious with him; he was a cold-weather guy and they wanted to build his workload up gradually, so he didn't pitch in a full-season league until 2010. He was sharp, posting a 3.43 ERA with a 135/40 K/BB in 121 innings for Wisconsin in the Midwest League that season.
Odorizzi was a key part of the December '10 trade that sent Zack Greinke from the Kansas City Royals to the Brewers. He got off to an excellent start in the Royals system, posting a 2.87 ERA with a 103/22 K/BB in 78 innings in High-A. A promotion to Double-A at mid-season 2011 brought mixed results (4.72 ERA, 54/22 K/BB in 69 innings), but he got off to a strong start on returning to that level in '12 (3.32 ERA, 47/10 K/BB in 38 innings) and remained very effective after moving up to Triple-A last May (11-3, 2.93 ERA with 88/40 K/BB in 107 innings for Omaha, very strong numbers for the Pacific Coast League).
He made his major league debut with the Royals last fall, then was involved in another massive trade this past winter, going from KC to Tampa Bay as part of the James Shields deal. He was 4-0, 3.83 with a 47/15 K/BB in 45 innings for Durham before today's promotion.
Odorizzi is a 6-2, 185 pound right-hander born March 27, 1990. He retains impressive athleticism and it may be his best overall physical trait: his combination of athleticism and a repeatable delivery helps him stay healthy, and so far he's been quite durable. Stuff-wise, he can get his fastball up to 95 MPH but usually works more in the 89-93 range and he gets more movement on the pitch when he doesn't try to overthrow. He also has a curveball, slider, and change-up.
Ian Malinowski broke Odorizzi's pitches down using PITCH f/x data from last fall and you can see the results here.. Malinowski admits that drawing conclusions based on seven innings of previous major league work is problematic, but concludes that, based on what we know now, Odorizzi doesn't have the repertoire of a front line starter.
I saw Odorizzi pitch in Double-A and Triple-A in '11 and '12 and I think Ian's conclusion is fair. The quality of Odorizzi's secondary stuff seems to vary from start to start. I've seen a very good change-up out of him, and a very good curve, although not always at the same time. He tends to work high in the strike zone and can be vulnerable to home runs when he makes a mistake with location. Overall, his stuff rates as average.
The fact that two teams have been willing to trade him is telling: they don't see him as a future ace. But on the other hand, the fact that two teams wanted him as key components in major trades is also a factor in his favor.
Odorizzi's ability to throw strikes and stay healthy is valuable. His makeup is considered very positive, and he has shown the ability to adapt and make changes when he reaches a new level of competition. I expect some ups-and-downs as he adjusts to the major leagues, but Odorizzi profiles well as a number four starter down the line.
Some people take "number four starter" as some sort of insult, but it isn't. A pitcher who can eat 180 innings with league-average performance is quite valuable. Don't expect Odorizzi to win Cy Young Awards, but he should have a successful career, assuming the standard caveats about avoiding injuries.