Jake Odorizzi doesn’t have a signature offering. The 23-year-old right-hander doesn’t need one. He’s the top prospect in the Tampa Bay Rays organization thanks to solid command of a four-pitch mix.
Originally drafted 32nd overall by the Brewers in 2008, Odorizzi has twice been involved in franchise-altering transactions. Milwaukee sent him to Kansas City as part of the Zack Greinke trade, and Tampa Bay acquired him in the Wil Myers–James Shields deal.
Odorizzi talked about his evolution as pitcher, including the development of his repertoire, earlier this month.
Odorizzi on his career thus far: “I think I’ve made a good progression through the professional ranks. No place has really overwhelmed me. I was able to adjust fairly quickly to every level, so from a progression standpoint, things have gone tremendously for me.
“From a mechanics standpoint, I’ve learned a lot over my six years. You can never have too much information. Different coaches say different things — some of which work and some don’t — and that’s the fun thing: You figure out what works for you and try to perfect it.”
On his first seasons of pro ball: “I had some idea of what I was doing early on, but it’s tough when you’re young and don’t get many innings. You have to make the most of the time you get, and sometimes that’s a bad thing. You try and do too much, because you know you’re not going to see a bunch of innings. When you get your first full season in, the mental aspect really kicks into a different level.
“There was never really one ah-ha kind of moment. It was a gradual progression. I think I’ve always had a good feel for the mental side of the game in terms of not letting things overwhelming me. I had a good start as far as handling things as they began getting more difficult. I took it all in stride.”
On his breaking-balls: I started throwing my breaking-balls in high school. The curve was better then. The slider I’ve learned to throw better over time, from tinkering with it. My curve has remained the same.
“I guess it depends on someone’s personal view which one they like better. I like throwing both. Depending on which game someone sees, I could be using the curveball or slider more. The views of one person can vary from another because of that.
“Having four pitches for me is better than having three, because I’m not a guy that’s overpowering. It’s nice to have an extra pitch you can throw for a strike. That can give you that extra edge. My curve and slider are very different.”
On the development of his slider: “I used to throw my slider [going] around the ball, trying to create break in my hand. That was fine at the time — at the lower levels — but once I got to higher levels and listened to coaches who have been around the game for a while, I learned to get behind the ball and it really showed. The velocity increased and the movement turned into a late, sharp movement. Instead of a loopy out-of-the-hand, right-to-left type of pitch, it became more of a straight-then-diving-down sort of pitch. It was kind of easy to grasp for me. Thankfully it wasn’t a difficult transition. It’s changed a lot since I first started throwing it.
“I adjusted [my slider] by talking with other players. No one forced me to try it another way. It was just experimentation, and once I finally found something that worked I stuck to it. I started tinkering here and there and once I found something I liked, I worked on it in bullpens and playing catch until was comfortable with it. Late in High-A and early in Double-A is when it got to the next level. Triple-A is where I feel I perfected it by getting a bit more velocity. It’s turning into a hybrid slider-cutter.”
On organizational differences: “The organizations [haven’t had] especially strong opinions on what I do on the mound. Kansas City had a few things at the higher levels and told us things they like to do. For instance, I had to work on my changeup, and had to throw it in games at least 10% to 15% of my pitches.
“I’m now in a different situation in my career — here in Tampa — than I was then. Everything here works around you. If you need adjustments, it’s on you to ask for help. If not, you stick with what’s going well. If you want to work on something, you speak up and someone is willing to help.”
On his changeup: “I’ve been doing a lot of work on my changeup. That’s been my biggest work-in-progress since I was drafted. I’m still tinkering with it, trying to find something I’m happy with and can throw at any time. When I was drafted, I didn’t have a changeup. In high school you don’t use one much, so I’ve had to learn one in pro ball.
“I’ve messed with a lot of grips. I’m still tweaking it a bit, trying to find something that consistently works. That’s been my point of emphasis, and this year is no different, I’ll go into spring and work hard on my changeup, throwing it as much as I can and trying to get a good feel for it. That’s what spring is all about, preparing everything for the season.”
On his fastball and command: “I throw mainly four-seamers, When I throw a two-seam fastball, it just kind of goes straight. I don’t really know how to make it sink without forcing it, and that’s unnatural. I can hurt myself trying to do that. I’ve always thrown it straight; it just doesn’t have that two-seam motion to it. There are guys up here that are pretty darn good at it, like Alex Cobb, Chris Archer and David Price. They all have great two-seams and I might talk with them and learn how to do it, but until then I don’t think it’s going to be a staple in my arsenal.
“My game is controlling the ball. I’m not throwing 97 [mph]. I throw between 90 and 95, and when you’re in that range you really need to locate. That’s what pitching is all about: throwing what you want, where you want it. I want to be able to put my fastball anywhere I want at any given time.”
On his catchers and pitching coach: “I haven’t had a chance to talk to Ryan Hanigan yet, but I’ve heard good things about him. Last year, throwing to [Jose] Molina and [Jose] Lobaton was great. Molina is a great veteran presence. He knows how to call a game. Lobie is the same way. He’s learning from Jose and works really hard back there. He’s really improved. Other pitches have said that he’s come a long way.
“Jim Hickey always asks what you’re thinking first and sees where your thought process is, then says what he needs to say. He’s good about keeping everything calm, even in a pressure situation. He’s calm and puts you in a good state of mind to go out and execute. He’s definitely a fantastic pitching coach.”