Zack Dodson has had two years worth of set backs in low-A. In 2011 he missed half the season with a broken hand. He did have good numbers when healthy, but only made 13 starts at the level. Dodson returned to West Virginia in 2012 and saw some struggles. In 2011 he had a 2.66 ERA in 66.2 innings, with a 6.2 K/9 and a 2.0 BB/9. In 2012 he had a 4.86 ERA in 100 innings, with a 6.0 K/9 and a 3.6 BB/9.
The lefty entered the 2012 season looking like a potential number three or four starter. He had a fastball which often sat in the 90-93 MPH range. His curveball was a strikeout pitch, and his changeup was a strong offering, allowing him to remain as a starter in the long-term. Dodson struggled with his fastball command, and also lost the feel for his curveball, leading to the decrease in numbers. Dodson was suspended at the end of July for a substance of abuse, ending his season early.
Today I watched Dodson throw for the second time in the last week. One thing I’ve noticed in each outing is that his curveball looks to be back to form. The pitch has a big break, and he’s throwing it down in the zone. Dodson mentioned after today’s outing that his suspension helped the curveball. After taking some time off from pitching, he started throwing the curve again and got the pitch back to normal.
“I struggled with it a lot last year,” Dodson said of the curve. “Lost the feel for it, and quit throwing it this off-season. When I picked up the baseball it just kind of came back again. It’s been real good, I’m glad it’s coming back finally.”
The fastball command has always been an issue for Dodson. He struggled with his control in 2010 with State College. He saw improvements in 2011, but regressed a bit in 2012. Today he admitted that the command isn’t all the way there this Spring. He fared well today, sitting 89-90 MPH with his four-seam fastball. He threw 45 pitches overall, with 31 strikes. In three innings he gave up one unearned run on two hits, with a walk and four strikeouts. These numbers do come with the disclaimer that he was throwing against a short-season level team.
“Still got a little ways to go with the command,” Dodson said of his fastball. “As far as velocity, I’m happy with it. I’m not worried about trying to blow 95. If I can be right around 90 all day, I can live with that.”
One addition this year is that Dodson is bringing back his two-seam fastball. The Pirates take the pitch away from high school pitchers, forcing them to focus on commanding their four-seamer. He’s been throwing it recently, and the Pirates haven’t said anything about restricting the use of the pitch. Dodson was throwing it today around 85 MPH. If used correctly, the pitch could help Dodson get quick outs, and help him when his control gets him behind in the count. Dodson noted that the pitch sometimes has good sink and run, and that so far it has been a good pitch for him.
The addition of the two-seam fastball gives Dodson five pitches to choose from. Aside from the two fastballs and curveball, he also has a slider and changeup. He’s been focused on the curveball early in camp, and the next focus will probably go to the changeup.
“My changeup is still one of my best pitches,” Dodson said. “I haven’t been too focused on it, because it’s something that’s always been there for me. I’ve kind of been more worried about the curveball and getting it going. I guess now that I’ve got the feel for the curveball, I’ll start worrying about it more next time.”
He still has time remaining on his suspension. Dodson will miss the first 21 days of the season, but should return at the end of April after missing about three or four starts. That will give him some additional time to get ready for the season. Despite the struggles in West Virginia, Dodson could have a shot at jumping to Bradenton when he returns from his suspension.
The big question is whether he can bounce back from his 2012 season. Having his curveball back on track is a good sign. He’s an above average curveball, and his fastball is above-average at times. He’s comfortable with the changeup, and it’s an average-to-above average offering. The addition of a two-seam should help him stay in the game when any command issues come up. Dodson definitely has the tools needed to get back on track. If he makes the jump to Bradenton this year, then he’ll be age appropriate at the age of 22. The fastball command is going to be the key. When Dodson had strong command of the fastball in 2011, and at times in 2012, the numbers were great. If he can get back to that in 2013, then that will set up his other offerings well, and put him on track for a bounce back season.