Odorizzi has significant upside on mound
20-year-old expected to rise up the minor league ranks
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Pitcher Jake Odorizzi was the fourth player the Royals obtained from Milwaukee in the trade that sent star pitcher Zack Greinke and shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt to the Brewers.
No one can say for sure, of course, but Odorizzi could turn out to be the most important acquisition in the deal. The other three players acquired already are making their mark -- Alcides Escobar will be the Royals' starting shortstop, Jeremy Jeffress is a leading candidate for the bullpen and Lorenzo Cain is making a push for the outfield. Meanwhile, Odorizzi is likely to be in the rotation for Class-A Wilmington.
But Odorizzi looms large in the Royals' future, a hard-throwing right-hander who at 20 -- he'll be 21 on March 27 -- is showing moves and maturity beyond his years.
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"Given? I'd say so," he said. "I just worked on perfecting it. I worked hard at it but a lot of things just came natural to me, a nice easy flow and everything like that. Things came easy and I just worked on trying to perfect them."
It's too early to compare Odorizzi with Greinke, of course, but the word in the Royals' Minor League camp is that his body type and language and pitching approach reminds some observers of the departed Zackster.
"The thing that really stands out is that he's really professional in the way he goes about everything," said J.J. Picollo, the assistant general manager of scouting and player development. "He's got a plan with every pitch, he's not a guy who tries to overthrow in every bullpen. He knows how to regulate his effort like a veteran guy would. He really concentrates on keeping the ball down -- fastball, breaking ball, changeup. As you see him in games, it's going to stand out a little bit more."
Odorizzi is from Highland, Ill., and in his senior year the Bulldogs won the Class 3A state title, the first in school history. He was 14-0 with a 0.10 ERA -- really? -- with 146 strikeouts and a mere six walks in 89.2 innings. Yep, he gave up just one earned run. So no wonder the Brewers made him the 32nd overall pick, between the first and second rounds, of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft.
Highland is a southern Illinois town where his father, Mike, is an electrical lineman for the city and his mother, Julie, works at a heating-cooling company in nearby Greenville. Jake is an only child who also played football and basketball.
"I was going to go to [the University of] Louisville to play. I signed there in the spring before so that's where I was slated to go, and then the draft came along and the plans changed," he said.
Last year, his third in the Brewers' organization, he was 7-3 with a 3.43 ERA for Single-A Wisconsin, compiling 135 strikeouts -- 10.1 per nine innings, to lead the Midwest League -- against 40 walks in 120 2/3 innings.
Then came the Dec. 19 deal that landed him in Kansas City.
"It was a big shock," he recalled. "I was at home and my agent had called me about five or six times starting about 6:30. And I finally woke up at 7, wondering what he was calling for me on a Sunday this early. And I turned on the TV and saw on ESPN that Greinke got traded to the Brewers. So I kind of put two-and-two together and called him back and he confirmed it. Then Doug Melvin, the Brewers' GM, called me about an hour later and confirmed it again. It was kind of a very unexpected Sunday morning."
Odorizzi says he throws a fastball that ranges "anywhere from 90 to 96" miles an hour along with a slider, curveball and changeup. He has confidence in them all.
"I throw all four pitches whatever the count is," he said.
Jim Brower, a former Major League pitcher who is the new pitching coach for the Royals' Single-A club at Kane County, Ill., has watched Odorizzi in early workouts.
"Looks good. He was out there during live batting practice and has a real good idea of what he wants to do," Brower said. "His pitches have, especially this early on, consistent break and movement, and he's just a guy that has a great sense of physicality. He knows his mechanics, he knows what he wants to do with every pitch. That's hard to find with a young guy, especially this early in camp."
Odorizzi isn't cranking up his velocity just yet.
"But the ball comes out of his hand really clean and the hitters don't seem to pick it up very well," Brower said.
It wouldn't be a stretch to say that the Royals might not have made the Greinke deal if the Brewers had not agreed to part with Odorizzi.
"Some of the veteran people in the game will tell you, if you're going to trade a star, which we were doing in that case, you need to get their No. 1 pitching prospect back," Picollo said. "And he was a key part of that deal. We were able to secure some players that were going to help our big-league team soon and get a guy who's a little bit more down the road."
Odorizzi is that guy down the road and, while he'll probably start at Wilmington, he's eager to move right on up to Double-A Northwest Arkansas.
As Spring Training goes along, Royals fans are learning a bit more about Escobar, Jeffress and Cain. And now Odorizzi will start to get more notice.
"We're kind of unknown to people in Kansas City," Odorizzi said. "Hopefully people will start learning who we are and we can start making an impact at the big-league level, and people won't regret the trade as much as they would like to right now. I think Zack's going to do well in Milwaukee and I hope we can do just as well here in Kansas City."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.