Tampa Bay Rays rookie starter Jake Odorizzi is pushing beyond prospect status now: with 80 big league innings over three seasons, he will no longer qualify as a prospect on subsequent lists. Someone asked me recently what I thought about Odorizzi, so I thought I'd weigh in on that this morning. This is a little different than the normal Prospect of the Day articles, but I don't feel it necessary to recap Odorizzi's entire career at this point and will take a more impressionist approach with this piece.
I have liked Odorizzi since he was in high school back in Illinois, well enough to have shadow-drafted him back in 2008. I am still favorably disposed towards him. I like the efficiency he showed in the minors: the consistently strong K/BB ratios and the ability to make start after start and eat innings without getting hurt. He was a shortstop and wide receiver in high school and still shows the fine overall athleticism that comes with that background, another factor in helping him avoid injury.
I had a chance to speak with him during the 2012 Futures Game event. He came across as an intelligent, very motivated, confident and positive young man. The conversation fit in well with the reports from other sources about his makeup and coachability.
Stuff-wise, he doesn't have the blazing fastball that gets terrific press reviews, but there's enough at 90-93 for him to succeed when his command is on. He's enlarged his arsenal of secondary pitches over the years. He has a slider and curveball, and added a split-changeup to the package this year. His Pitchf/x data shows him hitting velocity slots between 66 and 94 MPH this year.
With his ability and willingness to move up and down the velocity ladder, Odorizzi has always reminded me of a lower-case Zack Greinke. They are about the same size physically and even look somewhat alike. Of course, Greinke has better pure stuff than Odo and it shows in the results, although it is also true that Greinke at age 24 (Odorizzi's current age) was still in the process of turning into Zack Greinke.
It seems like Odorizzi has been around forever and I think there has been some prospect fatigue with him, but he is still young. If he'd gone to college at the University of Louisville as originally planed, he wouldn't have been drafted until 2011. He would most certainly have been an early round pick assuming he was as successful in college as he was in the pros. College pitchers drafted early in 2011 include Gerrit Cole, Trevor Bauer, Danny Hultzen (ouch), Sonny Gray, Matt Barnes, Alex Meyer, Sean Gilmartin, and Matt Purke. Cole and Gray are the only ones substantially ahead of Odorizzi's schedule.
He's had some rough moments this spring and his 4.98 ERA is unattractive. However, he's had some good starts too and the component ratios are better (3.46 FIP, 3.74 xFIP) than the ERA. If the Rays stick with him and if he continues to stay healthy, I think he will adjust and emerge as a solid strike-throwing mid-rotation starter.