Rays right-hander Jake Odorizzi has been a really good pitching prospect for years now. Wherever he goes, though, it always seems that he’s the second fiddle and that was very much the case in his first camp with the Rays after getting acquired by Tampa Bay in the James Shields trade back in December. When people talk about that Shields trade, the player always mentioned is Wil Myers, with Odorizzi’s name usually left out. And as a pitching prospect, Odorizzi’s name gets lost in the shuffle thanks to the Rays’ pitching depth. With David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, Roberto Hernandez in the major leagues and even Chris Archer a more high-profile name than him at Triple-A, Odorizzi has been a forgotten man. But all of that was before Odorizzi made his first start in the Rays organization. Once he took the mound and showed just how good he was capable of being, suddenly eyes were back on him and people remembered that he has the ability to be a whole lot more than just an afterthought.
Odorizzi took the hill for the Bulls for his season debut on Monday and proceeded to dominate. He went 6.2 innings, the longest outing by far by a Durham starter as the other five all went 5 innings or less, and his length was far from the only highlight of his game. He allowed just 4 hits over his outing, striking out 8 while walking just 2. Not known as an overpowering pitcher, Odorizzi touched 93-94 MPH with his fastball to go along with an excellent curveball and a solid changeup and opposing hitters didn’t stand a chance. Odorizzi remains a too much of a flyball pitcher, managing just a 3-6 groundout to flyout ratio in the game, and commanding his pitches and forcing more contact on the ground will be a key for Odorizzi moving forward. But within his context as a flyball pitcher, Odorizzi has learned to make adjustments, for example throwing his changeup up in the zone more often so that it mirrors his fastball more, and even as he learns to harness the bottom of the zone more, his ability to pitch up will be an asset as a change of pace.
Odorizzi gets ripped as a pitching prospect because he throws four good but not great pitches in his fastball, curveball, changeup, and slider. He has shown flashes, though, where his entire arsenal is working and he has been overpowering, like on Monday, and in the Rays system, Odorizzi has the luxury of working to make those flashes more sustained. His fastball command is still a work in progress and his secondary pitches have never been really strikeout offerings, but now he has as much time as he needs to rectify those issues and become the best pitcher he can possibly be. The way Odorizzi’s debut was, though, that might not take too long. Odorizzi isn’t a potential ace for the Rays and he will probably slot in best as a mid-rotation starter. But doesn’t mean that Odorizzi can’t be an impact pitcher in the major leagues as soon as later this season, and even amidst all the Rays’ impressive pitchers, he deserves recognition.