February 21, 2013; Port Charlotte, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Jake Odorizzi (23) poses for a picture during photo day at Charlotte Sports Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Can Jake Odorizzi Become The Next Shifty Rays Starter to Make It Big in the Major Leagues?

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On the Rays right now are two pitchers who have achieved a great deal of success with power arsenals rivaling anyone’s in the major leagues. Those two pitchers are David Price and Matt Moore. Everyone else has not been lucky enough to have arms like them–but it doesn’t mean they haven’t been successful. From James Shields to Jeremy Hellickson to Alex Cobb, the Rays have found themselves quite a few pitchers without as dominating repertoires who have been critical pieces of their rotations. Can Jake Odorizzi be next?

Odorizzi’s fastball reaches 95 MPH, but he survives more based on its movement than its velocity. Odorizzi gets good late life on his fastball, which sits primarily from 90-92 MPH, and he has worked hard on commanding it down in the zone to force weak contact. Odorizzi is a flyball pitcher, but he does an excellent job jamming hitters and won’t allow too many home runs. His secondary pitches, though, are where things really get interesting. Hellickson, Cobb, and Shields all have their changeups as a put-away pitch, but Odorizzi has always been a prospect who you liked his fastball but you were waiting for his secondary pitches to develop. Now, though, that may finally be changing.

It’s no coincidence that Hellickson, Cobb, and Shields all have great changeups–the changeup is an emphasis of the Rays organization. They have begun to work their magic again with Odorizzi. Odorizzi’s changeup features good arm action and nice late sinking action, but its movement didn’t mirror his fastball enough and he only really threw it to left-handed batters. This year, though, the Rays instructed Odorizzi to throw his changeup more to righty batters and to be unafraid to throw it more up in the zone, and suddenly it is playing up significantly, possibly even enough to emerge as the second plus pitch he’s been missing with more work. Odorizzi’s changeup isn’t up to the level of Hellickson or Shields and it will get hit hard if he doesn’t sell it well enough, but adding the effective changeup has changed everything for Odorizzi and gives him a chance to be the number two starter type evaluators thought he could be for quite a while if he can keep developing it. Hellickson and Cobb dominated at Triple-A because hitters just could not lay off their changeup and Odorizzi was doing the same thing. The question is whether Odorizzi’s changeup will remain effective enough moving forward to keep generating ugly swings against quality major league hitters.

Odorizzi’s other offerings are two breaking balls, a slider and a curveball. Odorizzi’s slider is a little harder than you would expect given his fastball velocity, touching the mid-80’s, but that works just fine for him as it’s his best groundball pitch and has sharp enough action to miss some bats as well. And Odorizzi’s curveball may be the sleeper of his arsenal, being a slow, big-breaking pitch that is a big change of pace from everything else and can make hitters’ knees buckle. Maybe adding more shape to it could make it more effective, but for a time being it’s another solid pitch.

Like Chris Archer last season, there’s a pretty good chance that Odorizzi will just make a couple starts and then get sent to the minor leagues. However, if given the chance, there’s no reason to believe that Odorizzi can’t be a viable big league option for the Rays the rest of this season. With a good fastball and three solid secondary pitches, he can be a very good back-of-the-rotation option, and if the changeup keeps gaining consistency he might be able to become more than that. For now, Odorizzi has the ability to make the hole vacated by David Price not feel too vacant and keep the Rays in games start after start. What Odorizzi becomes in the future is still very much up in the air, but he’s a major league quality pitcher with the ability to succeed.

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