Aug 29, 2013; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Jake Odorizzi (23) throws a pitch during the fourth inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Armed With New Changeup, Jake Odorizzi Could Be Better Than We Thought

Jake Odorizzi has always had a lot going for him as a pitching prospect. The former first rounder by the Milwaukee Brewers was drafted as a pitcher but was not quite your average pitching prospect, also starring as a shortstop and a wide receiver in high school. Odorizzi’s athleticism has made him not only a great fielding pitcher, but also one who repeats his mechanics extremely well. Thanks to his easy delivery, Odorizzi has suffered exactly one “injury” his entire career–an upper respiratory infection in spring training of 2012. That is literally it. And especially with his health never being a concern, Odorizzi’s stuff has allowed him to shine. Odorizzi has always stood out for his fastball, which reaches as high as the mid-90′s with excellent movement. He has thrown it for strikes seemingly forever, and his ability to command it within the zone has continued to improve. The question, though, was always his secondary pitches. He throws a solid slider and his curveball and changeup have had their moments, but none of those pitches ever jumped out at hitters. Without that great second pitch, Odorizzi still had the ability to be a good pitcher, but never a great one. His teams just kept waiting, but that plus secondary offering never fell into place. Then this spring training, it finally happened.

In the past few weeks, Alex Cobb taught Odorizzi the pitch he calls “The Thing”–the dynamic split-changeup that has spurred Cobb to become arguably the Rays’ second-best pitcher behind David Price. The lesson went quite well. Friday marked the first time Odorizzi had thrown his new split-change in a game, and he managed to strike out Xavier Paul with the pitch. Cobb likes what he is seeing from his teammate, remarking that the offering “worked right away.” Odorizzi was also thrilled by how it went.

“Extremely encouraged; today was a day I just wanted to throw it a lot, and that’s what I did. t was exactly what I wanted it to be … Every other pitch, it seemed like I really wanted to use it to get a feel for it. There’s was definitely room for it to improve. It was a good starting point today and definitely something to work on.”

In life, you never know when everything will finally come together. 2014 marks Jake Odorizzi’s seventh year as a professional, and up until now, he never got a consistent feel for any breaking ball or offspeed pitch. Then, after working with Alex Cobb for just a couple of weeks, suddenly he found one, and now he can become the pitcher everyone thought he could be. Odorizzi needs to continue working on his split-change, but now we see the pitch that can help him actualize his potential. If the new changeup can become a swing-and-miss offering for Odorizzi, suddenly he features two plus pitches, a third solid one in his slider, and a fourth in his big-breaking curveball that gives hitters an entirely different look. That pitcher has the ability to be number two starter–exactly the pitcher the Brewers were envisioning when they drafted him and what the Kansas City Royals envisaged when they traded for him. The Rays, in contrast, acquired him as the second piece in the Wil Myers trade, expecting a good, not great pitcher who could be a number four or five starter. Now, instead of that being Odorizzi’s upside, it could be his realistic worse case scenario. It is time to start getting excited about Jake Odorizzi. This is his year to join the Rays’ rotation, and he could very well be the next Rays starting pitcher to take the league by storm.

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