Q&A: Odorizzi soaks up time with Rays

Tampa Bay right-hander talks trades, offseason preparation

Jake Odorizzi held opposing IL batters to a .225 average last season. (Danny Wild/MLB.com)

By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com | January 15, 2014 10:27 AM

It's a saying that has become popular in football circles.

Next man up.

Then again, it's probably been muttered just as often within the Rays organization.

The former laughingstocks of the AL East have put together four straight 90-win seasons, thanks in part to their incredible pitching depth that has been built within its farm system. Of the six Rays pitchers to make at least 20 starts in 2013, only one (Roberto Hernandez) hadn't climbed the team's Minor League ladder.

With the 2014 season on the horizon, the next man up is expected to be Tampa Bay's No. 2 prospect Jake Odorizzi.

The 23-year-old right-hander, who was previously traded to Kansas City from the Brewers, came to the Rays last offseason along with Wil Myers, Mike Montgomery and Patrick Leonard in the deal that sent James Shields and Wade Davis to the Royals. He went 9-6 with a 3.33 ERA, 124 strikeouts and 40 walks in 22 starts (124 1/3 innings) during his inaugural season with the International League champion Durham Bulls. He made seven appearances (four starts) at the Major League level, posting a 3.94 ERA in those outings.

Odorizzi talked to MiLB.com about what it was like to be traded again, his first offseason in Tampa and his own flirtation with the pigskin.

MiLB.com: This past year was your first in the Rays organization. What stands out to you after having a season under your belt with Tampa Bay?

Odorizzi: Just kind of how I was handled, really, and how great it was. You hear things about how good this organization is, and it really lived up to that. Everyone here is great on communication, and the program they put you on is one-of-a-kind. You can see why they're so successful and continue to be that every year. It's a fairly simple system, and that made it an easy transition for me.

MiLB.com: When you talk about a program, what specifically was different from your experience with the Royals?

Odorizzi: There's just some different stuff you notice. They're big on making tweaks here, tweaking this and that. It's all very player specific, and that's what they're very into -- making sure you're on a program that's going to work best for you. The training staff is very hands-on in that way. They know your body, how your body will handle things and develop a program according to that. They know if you can keep pushing or if you need to take a few days off so that you can push again. They're very in-tune with that.

MiLB.com: What kind of tweaks have they made with you?

Odorizzi: Not too many, to tell you the truth. There was a transition from the Kansas City program, how they do weights and certain things like that. So there was a kind of transition there. But once I caught on, it was very easy to get on their plan from there.

MiLB.com: Sounds like it didn't take you long to get settled.

Odorizzi: Not really, no. Everyone was very welcoming. This was a very good team to fit in with because it's such a young team. It's actually kind of unique because there is definitely a veteran presence there, but at the same, primarily everyone is pretty young and around my age. So for me, we're all kind of coming from a similar place, and that makes it easy.

MiLB.com: The first team you had to get to know was in Durham, where you guys had a good rotation for most of the year with Chris Archer, Alex Colome, yourself, J.D. Martin and some others. How was it working in that environment?

Odorizzi: That was a good -- a really good, actually -- team. Between Arch, Colome, myself and Alex Torres, other guys like you said, it was a pretty good rotation down there. We felt like we could handle any International League team out there. That's always a good team to be on. Offensive-wise, we were pretty good too, especially with Wil being down with us for a whole lot of the year.

MiLB.com: Myers being one of the guys that moved from the Royals with you -- how close have you guys gotten?

Odorizzi: Yeah, definitely, we've been roommates before and got to be pretty good friends through this whole thing. It was great to make the move with him and Monty, too. It makes it a lot easier when you have guys like that coming with you.

MiLB.com: Did it help the second time around that you had already been through the trade before from the Brewers to the Royals?

Odorizzi: I think so. I knew what to expect, the ins and outs of the whole thing. I'd say I was kind of used to it after the first one and didn't feel like I was going into it blind. I wasn't sitting there thinking, "OK, what comes next? Who do I have to talk to?" I knew what was coming, and it was just an easier thing to do.

MiLB.com: Did the other guys come to you asking for advice?

Odorizzi: Not really. They were both excited for the trade. The Rays made it an easy transition for all of us, so there was not much really talk between us about what to do. At that point, it's all about meeting new faces, and they got a handle of that part of when you're making a move like we did.

MiLB.com: You yo-yoed a bit between the Majors and Minors during the season. What were your experiences like in the bigs?

Odorizzi: They were great. At Spring Training, I got off to a good start, getting to know the guys and figuring out how everybody operates. That's the best thing you can do is just be around people. So it was an easy move once I got called up because I felt like I was just coming back to the guys. The time was great though when I was there. The clubhouse atmosphere is fantastic. The coaching staff is awesome. The training staff is one of the best in the game. I can't say enough good things about them.

MiLB.com: One of the things that has made the Rays so successful has been their pitching depth, starting with David Price and on down the line with Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, etc. Did you seek out any one of them in particular for advice?

Odorizzi: I was just taking it in from everybody. David was actually the first one that reached out after the trade, so that was great. Any time you can be around him, a Cy Young winner, you have to listen.

Between Cobb, Matt and [Jeremy Hellickson], we're more similar in age, I guess, so that made it easier to be around them. Matt's actually the closest of the bunch, but Cobb and Helly are right-handed so I relate to them better on the mound. Still, I tried to take things from everybody because they've been so successful up there and that's what I'm looking for.

MiLB.com: What experience or experiences stood out to you about your time in the Majors?

Odorizzi: I made a spot start in Boston [a 3-1 loss on June 18], and that was a big turning point for me because I only gave up one run in [5 2/3 innings]. That was all about getting confidence again. My first two starts were only so-so. I had come back up for bullpen work, and I knew it was going to be a long process to start again up there. I ended up getting the no-decision, but it was still a big confidence booster that I was able to hold down that lineup in their park and the team that turned out to be world champs. It kinda felt like it all clicked up there for me. I started thinking, "If I've shown myself that I can handle them, what's stopping me from handling other teams, too?"

MiLB.com: One of the highlights of your season was pitching in the Triple-A National Championship. What's harder -- pitching in a regular-season game in the Majors or a Minor League game like that with a lot on the line?

Odorizzi: [laughs] Definitely the Majors. That game was a one-of-a-kind type of thing. It actually felt more like an All-Star Game than a championship game, to be honest. We had just won our league, and we were happy with that. Still, I got to face my old team [in Omaha], and that was fun to see some of the guys I played with and recognized. But yeah, it was more about fun than anything else.

MiLB.com: Now you're in your first full offseason with the Rays. What have you been up to so far this winter?

Odorizzi: I'm down here in Tampa now actually. We went home for the holidays [in Breese, Ill., about 45 minutes east of St. Louis], but I'm back now, working out at the Trop. Cobb and I have been working out on the side, too, so that's been good. There have been bullpens on the side, but there's still a lot to do, a lotta games to be had before we hit the season. I'm looking forward to all of it.

MiLB.com: Does yo-yoing up and down between the Majors and Minors weigh on you at all?

Odorizzi: Not particularly, to be honest. I was up in the Majors at the end of [2012] and got my first taste of it then. I got another taste last year, and it's just more motivating to have that under my belt and get back. It makes me push that extra bit to get up over the hump. I want to start the year up there, and that's what I'm constantly working on this offseason.

MiLB.com: Is there anything stuff-wise, anything you think needs particular attention that you're focusing on during that work?

Odorizzi: No, not really. I'm happy with my mechanics and stuff right now. It's just about staying consistent with what I know is working. I know what's going to happen when everything clicks -- it's just getting that to happen more often.

MiLB.com: Switching gears slightly, you had a chance to play college baseball and football at the University of Louisville before signing with the Brewers. How close did you come to playing on Saturdays?

Odorizzi: If I went to college, that would have been a tough decision for me. Football is my favorite sport to play, and it's always really been that way. But I knew which way the wind was blowing in terms of where my future was headed and decided to stick with baseball and become a pro with that.

MiLB.com: What was that decision based off?

Odorizzi: I was just better at baseball, and everyone knew that. I could see the writing on the wall there. There aren't many people like myself, with my leaner build, in the NFL. But there are definitely more similar types in MLB. Once I looked at it that way, it was an easier decision for me.

Sam Dykstra is a contributor to MiLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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