(Photo via Pac-12 Network YouTube video, seen here)
When Cal’s Tanner Dodson warms up for a game, he has more to prepare for than most college players. As a switch hitter, he has to be sure to get enough swings before the game from both sides of the plate to fully prepare for any pitcher he may face. Defensively, no one needs more reps with shagging balls than the starting center fielder, and with 26 starts at the position as a sophomore, Dodson needs the work. Finally, he has the responsibility of preparing his right arm to throw off the mound or go through a rehab and recovery routine to ensure that it stays healthy to help the Bears fight for the Pac-12 crown. Although he carries a rather slender, undeveloped frame, the RHP/OF from West Sacramento has more than just his weight to carry going into his junior season.
Aside from his key role off the mound and in the box for the Bears, Dodson will now be more closely watched under the microscope of MLB scouts, making his performance this season all the more critical. After leading the Cape Cod League in batting average and posting a 3.69 ERA over 24 1/3 innings, Dodson landed firmly on the radars of just about every major league franchise. Unlike a majority of two-way college players, Dodson is being seriously considered as a prospect as both a pitcher and a hitter. Typically, two-way college players can be a little looser playing the position they know they won’t pursue at the next level, but if you haven’t found a position you can’t play like Dodson, every at-bat and every pitch matter. Luckily, he doesn’t have to go very far to get some advice on how to handle the pressure of an impending pro career. His father, Bo, was a former third-round selection out of high school by Brewers in 1989 and enjoyed a very respectable minor league career.
From my perspective, a player with the athleticism to play center field and fluid arm action to throw an easy low to mid-90s fastball is a top 10 round selection. The struggle is deciding whether to invest in the arm or the bat.
(Video via YouTube, Baseball America)
At the dish, his swing from the right side looks a bit more smooth and balanced than from the left side. Although the raw tools and high level patterns appear in his swing, it’s evident that getting only one at bat as a freshman did not help his development as a hitter. His top hand looks like it’s gripping the bat just a little too tight to fully allow his hips and core to develop elite bat speed. He definitely is a “handsy” hitter at this point, using his forearms and wrists to swing the bat instead of his bigger muscles like his legs. While this may have helped develop a consistent ability to make contact, he’ll need to develop power to reach the big leagues and stay there.
Given his athleticism and lack of at bats, there’s no reason why he can’t develop into a more complete hitter. His set up and approach to the baseball remind me of a guy who plays six hours down I-5, Justin Turner.
(Video via YouTube, Baseball Swinpedia)
Like Dodson, Turner uses a sizeable leg kick to get on time with the baseball. Both hitters don’t drift their hands too far away from their bodies, although Turner keeps his hands closer to his right oblique to build a tighter coil. The most evident similarity with these two is their classification as “front-foot hitters,” looking to connect with the ball well in front of the plate by driving off their back foot towards the pitcher. Turner distinguishes himself from Dodson by heavily incorporating his legs and core to generate power. Whereas Turner nearly shows his whole back to the pitcher to coil and load his back hip, Dodson more has a glide to the pitcher, not fully tapping into his full strength. However, Turner’s rise to one of the best hitters in the game has been well documented as a slow and methodical journey, so giving Dodson some time to perfect his swing may just be what he needs.
From the mound, there’s much less digging to do to see where he may develop into a big leaguer. Dodson showcases a more mature and developed motion than his swing at this point, carry a California cool delivery which produces a solid fastball with plenty of life and run. His heater is complemented by a plus slider that’s more than capable of producing plenty of swings and misses to make him an easy candidate for a bullpen role at the very least. Although his stats aren’t anything to gush over, he showed a steady improvement from his freshman campaign into his most recent season, striking out 19 more batters in 9 2/3 fewer innings of work.
(Video via YouTube, Pac-12 Networks)
Dodson exhibits a good amount of explosiveness in his motion for an individual still seemingly growing into a 6-foot-1, 173-pound body. His legs help drive his body downhill and a short and quick hand path helps his fastball whip through the zone. If he maintains his mechanics, adds muscle in the right places, and develops a reliable three pitch arsenal, Dodson could be a legitimate big league prospect.
At 20 years old, Mr. Dodson has plenty of time to carve out his trail as a hitter or a pitcher at the next level. It’s highly unlikely, if not impossible, that he will do both at the next level, but he definitely has the luxury of possibly falling back on the other if one does not pan out. However, it’s a certainty that his performance in 2018 will have a substantive impact on the outcome of the Bear’s season and his professional career.