This marks the 30th anniversary of USA TODAY recognizing the nation's top high school athletes. As we prepare to unveil the 2013 American Family Insurance ALL-USA Baseball Team at the end of the season, we'll dig into the archives and check in with ALL-USA honorees from the past three decades. Today, we catch up with 2008 All-USA Player of the Year Jake Odorizzi of Highland, Ill., who is pitching for the Durham Bulls of the Class AAA International League.
MORE: American Family Insurance ALL-USA Homepage
For a pitcher whom scouts say has middle-of-the rotation stuff, Jake Odorizzi sure has been tough to hit.
On Sunday, Odorizzi combined with three Durham relievers for the second no-hitter of his career, going seven innings while walking four batters and striking out three in a defeat of the Pawtucket Red Sox. In 2010, the 6-2 right-hander threw eight no-hit innings while pitching for the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, the Milwaukee Brewers' Class A Midwest League affiliate.
One of these days, he might be allowed to complete a no-hitter. Odorizzi, 23, understands the Tampa Bay Rays are just protecting one of their top prospects. He is listed as the No. 42 minor league prospect by MLB.com and No. 80 by minorleagueball.com.
"In this last no-hitter, I was at 95 pitches through seven innings," he said. "I still had 15 pitches to work with (he was being limited to 110 pitches a game), and they knew I wasn't going to get to the ninth inning. The situation would be different if it was the big leagues. That's just the nature of the business."
Since being drafted No. 32 overall in 2008 by the Brewers, Odorizzi has learned a lot about the business. Though he was named a Midwest League midseason All-Star in 2010, he was traded the following December to the Kansas City Royals, along with infielder Alcides Escobar, pitcher Jeremy Jeffress and outfielder Lorenzo Cain for pitcher Zack Greinke.
With the Royals, he was promoted in 2011 from Class A Wilmington, N.C., where he was named a Carolina League midseason All-Star, to AA Northwest Arkansas. Last season, he was 15-5 with a 3.03 earned run average as a starter after beginning the season in Northwest Arkansas and finishing it at AAA Omaha. He even got his first taste of the majors, two late September starts for the Royals against the Cleveland Indians, where he went 0-1 with a 4.91 ERA in 7.1 innings.
"It's nice that I got my feet wet and know what to expect now," Odorizzi said. "I honestly wasn't that nervous. I was up there about a week before my start, so I was able to watch how guys go about things and I got a relaxed feeling. I threw just like I was throwing in the minors."
In November, he married his high school sweetheart, Carissa. A month later, he got another call and he was headed to the Rays' organization, this time in a deal that sent Odorizzi, along with Mike Montgomery, Patrick Leonard and Wil Myers, in exchange for James Shields and Wade Davis.
"It was actually easier getting traded the second time," Odorizzi said. "The first time I got traded, I felt like I was a new draftee all over again because I was the only minor leaguer in that deal. My wife knows it is a business. She has been through this trade and the second one. When we get traded like that, you just get accustomed to a new area. You never know where you'll be each year."
This spring, he was in competition for a starting job with the Rays, but began the season in Durham.
"I knew there were four of us going for the fifth spot," he said. "So that meant that two, if not three of us in spring training were going to Triple A. I wasn't crushed when it happened. I just want to be ready (for the majors) when the time comes."
Going into a scheduled start Friday, Odorizzi is 3-0 with a 2.65 earned run average, including 39 strikeouts and 13 walks in 34 innings. He has a solid four-pitch repertoire (fastball, curveball, slider and change-up), but some scouts see his upside as a No. 3 or No. 4 starter in the majors, saying his fastball isn't overpowering (though it tops out at 94-95 mph) and his change-up needs work.
"When I first came out of high school, I was definitely a thrower, not a pitcher," Odorizzi said. "Now, it's my sixth year of pro ball and I am trying to refine all my pitches and tune things up a little more. I'm just doing what I can to do my best. The biggest thing is consistently being able to throw the ball down to a zone."
Follow Jim Halley on Twitter @jimhalley.