Bullpen Work Paying Off For Zack Dodson

Zack Dodson

After pitching last season in West Virginia with good results, Zack Dodson seemed like a surprise returner to the Power roster this year. He did miss some time with a hand injury, but in his 13 starts for West Virginia the 2009 fourth round draft pick put up a 2.57 ERA with good control (15 walks in 64.1 IP), a .246 BAA and a strong 1.44 GO/AO ratio. Those numbers earned him a ranking just outside the Pirates Prospects top twenty in our 2012 Prospect Guide.

Dodson began this year with an average April — he had a 4.50 ERA, but it came with decent strikeout rate. In the month of May and June things went south, with monthly ERA’s over 6.00 and diminishing strikeout totals. Since the SAL All-Star break though, Dodson has turned things around, posting a 3.44 ERA with a much improved groundball rate over earlier in the year. Four out of his last seven outings have resulted in quality starts, with another just missing due to his inning total and his last start fell short of that stat despite throwing five shutout innings in Greensboro on Wednesday.

I saw Dodson working in the bullpen with pitching coach Willie Glen before the Friday game in Lakewood, and I caught up with him afterwards for a few questions.

Dodson was treating the bullpen session like a game situation, focusing on his changeup.

“My changeup hasn’t been as good these past couple of games, so we were just getting the feel for that, and the breaking ball,” Dodson said. He noted that his bullpens over the last month have been much better with their tempo and focus.

I noticed that they had the catcher Elias Diaz positioned at different distances all throughout the bullpen session, the reasoning on that was different for each pitch they threw.

“We moved him (Diaz) back to force me to really get out there with the changeup, and feel it out front,” Dodson said.

When they moved Diaz in, it allows Dodson to cut it off more than he does in a game. Dodson can get extended with his curve, allowing the pitch to get loopy. By bringing the catcher close, he puts more emphasis on pulling down on the ball.

As mentioned above, he has had some strong outings recently, including six innings with no earned runs against Lakewood four starts ago, followed by a seven inning complete game with just one run allowed. So what does he attribute this recent success to?

“Just having better work days and not worrying about the things I can’t control,” Dodson said.

He also had some help from another holdover from last year’s West Virginia staff, Zack Von Rosenberg, that led to an adjustment.

“Zack noticed a couple of weeks ago that my arm slot was higher than last year, so I dropped it a little and it has been coming a lot cleaner and a little more consistent,” Dodson noted.  Those changes have led to that 3.44 ERA and a 24:12 K/BB ratio in 36.2 innings since the South Atlantic League All-Star break.

While we see the results in the game, there are some more things on the way for Dodson, who knows there are things to work on all the time. He’s been throwing a 78-83 MPH slider that he threw prior to signing in 2009. The Pirates scrapped the pitch, which they do for most young pitchers to get them focused primarily on their curveball. He’s recently started throwing the pitch off of flat ground and in bullpen sessions.

“I don’t have the command or the ability to throw it consistently enough yet,” Dodson said of adding the pitch to his current arsenal.

There could be even more on the way, including a different look on his fastball.

“I’m going to start implementing a two-seam this off-season, to get it ready for next year,” Dodson said. He noted that the two-seam doesn’t sink much, which gives the pitch a lot of run without losing velocity.

He believes the second fastball is a good pitch for him and it’s possible we may see him with a five pitch arsenal next year, working between a low 90’s fastball and a curveball that was consistently 75 MPH when I saw him last month.

While some may think by now a pitcher drafted in 2009 should be further along at this point, it just proves there is so much to work on and part of that is finding which pitches work for you. Recent history with Dodson shows that the hard work is beginning to pay off.

Enjoy this story? Pirates Prospects will be switching to a subscription site on 4/13, so that we can continue bringing you the best Pirates coverage there is. For a very small monthly price, you can continue getting articles like this, along with coverage from every minor league city. Get more information here, and subscribe today!

Share This Article

John Dreker

John was born in Kearny, NJ, hometown of the 2B for the Pirates 1909 World Championship team, Dots Miller. In fact they have some of the same relatives in common, so it was only natural for him to become a lifelong Pirates fan. Before joining Pirates Prospects in July 2010, John had written numerous articles on the history of baseball while also releasing his own book and co-authoring another on the history of the game. He writes a weekly article on Pirates history for the site, has already interviewed many of the current minor leaguers with many more on the way and follows the foreign minor league teams very closely for the site. John also provides in person game reports of the West Virginia Power and Altoona Curve.

Prospect Trends — Short Season Progress Report

Next Story »

Adalberto Santos and Phil Irwin Win Eastern League Player of the Week Awards

  • Lee Young

    At best, he’s a MLB bullpen lefty?

    • Tim Williams

      I think that’s too low. Dodson has some good stuff and he’s still young enough that he doesn’t have a defined ceiling. I wouldn’t rule him out as a starter, especially if he’s adding more pitches.

      • JohnDreker

        I agree with Tim. He had success last year in low-A, now he seems to be working through struggles and learning to deal with them. He shows signs of being a top 10-15 prospect in the system, just needs consistency and we may not see that quite yet as he learns new pitches and works on refining others. He definitely puts in the effort daily, saw that by watching pre-games, and that is the most important thing,knowing/realizing what you need to work on and getting better day-by-day.

Latest Analysis

  • Josh Bell made the move to first base over the off-season. (Photo credit: David Hague)

    Why Should You Care About Prospects?

    10 hours ago

    Yesterday I had a shorter day than usual. The Pirates had cuts at the MLB level, and a road game. The day was shortened at Pirate City, ...

    Read More
  • Gregory Polanco

    Q&A: Trading Prospects For Rentals, Polanco Concerns, Meadows vs Appel

    1 day ago

    I missed the Q&A last week due to a common problem in Spring Training: I forgot what day it was. It was around 6:00 that I was ...

    Read More
  • Nick Kingham f

    Improving His Two-Seam Fastball will Make Nick Kingham a More Effective Pitcher

    2 days ago

    With Jameson Taillon returning from Tommy John surgery, and unlikely to make an impact at the Major League level early in the year, the top prospect to ...

    Read More
  • Arquimedes Caminero 3

    The Roster Situations That Could Impact the Makeup of the Pirates Bullpen

    4 days ago

    There are less than two weeks remaining in Spring Training, and the one area where the Pittsburgh Pirates had actual position battles is heating up. There were ...

    Read More
  • Jordan Luplow

    How the Pirates are Trying to Stay Ahead of the Curve With the New Draft Rules

    5 days ago

    The 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement brought a lot of changes to Major League Baseball. The biggest change for the Pittsburgh Pirates came in the draft. From 2008-2011, ...

    Read More
  • Alen Hanson

    The Key For Alen Hanson to Help the Pirates in the Majors This Year

    6 days ago

    When the Pittsburgh Pirates moved Alen Hanson to second base last year, part of the plan was to get him to the majors faster by putting him at ...

    Read More
  • Tyler Glasnow 2

    What the Stats Don’t Tell You About Tyler Glasnow

    1 week ago

    The stat line for Tyler Glasnow’s start at Pirate City yesterday looked great: 3 IP, 0 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 K. The lone run ...

    Read More
  • JaCoby Jones Josh Bell

    JaCoby Jones Did Fine in the Move to Shortstop, But Needs to Cut Down on Strikeouts

    1 week ago

    The Pittsburgh Pirates drafted JaCoby Jones as an outfielder in the third round of the 2013 draft, then surprised everyone the following year when they moved him ...

    Read More
  • Cody Dickson is a lefty with the upside of a middle of the rotation starter. (Photo Credit: Mark Olson)

    The Mental Adjustment that Led to Cody Dickson’s Dominant 2014 Second Half

    1 week ago

    Trusting his stuff and not trying to do too much — that has been the key for left-handed pitcher Cody Dickson so far in his professional baseball ...

    Read More
  • Third Base Mathisen Luplow Joe

    Who’s on Third? In the Pirates’ Farm System, It Could Be Anyone

    2 weeks ago

    If you have ever played third base in your life — professional, college, high school, slow pitch softball — then the Pittsburgh Pirates might be contacting you ...

    Read More
  • Browse More Articles