The Atlanta Braves will be running out the second of their two rookie left handed pitchers to make his major league debut, with the honor this time going to Dylan Dodd. While Dodd made a name for himself at the minor league level last season, he was not considered a favorite to win one of the five rotation spots. Dodd capitalized on some injuries to the competition for the early season roster and outperformed the rest of them on the way to earning his shot at making a lasting impression.
Dodd was not heavily recruited out of Bismarck Henning High School in Illinois, taking the junior college route early and spending two seasons as a two-way player at Kankakee Community College. He earned his way into a Division I program at Southeast Missouri State University where he became one of the most successful players in the school’s history. As a senior Dodd put up fantastic numbers in a small sample in 2020 before getting an extra year of eligibility and breaking out in 2021 — winning Ohio Valley Conference pitcher of the year. Dodd started 15 games for the Redhawks that season, posting a 3.17 ERA and incredible 120 strikeouts to 17 walks. This made him one of the draft’s top senior signs and the Braves scooped him up in the third round for just $125,000.
As an older pitcher with top-level command there was an immediate expectation of success for Dodd, but one month into his first full season and his numbers were merely decent. Dodd was striking out more than a batter per inning pitched, but had a 5.25 ERA and 4.45 FIP through five games at High-A Rome where he was a year older than the league average age. Then early in May everything clicked into place for Dodd and in his next 11 starts he had a 25% strikeout rate, 3.4% walk rate, and a FIP of 2.69. This earned him a promotion to Double-A, where the strong outings just kept rolling in. Dodd needed only nine games to earn his way to Triple-A, increasing his strikeout rate to 28.4% while still walking only 6.7% of batters and posting a 2.89 FIP. Dodd pitched well in his one game taste of Triple-A before heading into the offseason with a whole load of momentum.
Dodd being in camp was never a huge surprise, and even early in camp there were the whispers that Dodd was a dark horse to be in the rotation this season. Still, no one fully saw him taking over that role right out of camp but his performances really spoke for themselves. Dodd didn’t allow more than one run in any start until his final game, and overall continued the trend of posting great peripherals with 20 strikeouts to four walks in 18 spring innings. While he didn’t make the major league roster on opening day, he was reportedly going to earn the fifth start of the year regardless and that is exactly what happened.
Dodd has an underrated fastball, as even last year he touched 97 mph on occasion and has always been able to produce high spin rates and good spin efficiency. What results is a plus fastball that he can locate to any quadrant along with a delivery that produces some deception out of the hand and allows the fastball to play up. Dodd averages between 93 and 94 on his fastball, and fastballs with a similar metric quality to his produced a wOBA 18 points lower than the league average fastball in 2022. As mention Dodd makes further use of his raw metrics by being able to put the pitch on a dot, as he has the best command in the system and rarely gets himself into trouble with walks or poorly-located fastballs.
Dodd’s secondary stuff is a bit of a mixed bag, as while he commands it well he doesn’t show the same consistency in his spin and movement as he does with the fastball. Dodd’s changeup is the better of the two offerings, grading out above average with a deep fading action and a nice tunnel with the fastball. He throws his changeup between 82-84 mph, sells the pitch well with his arm action, and gets consistent whiffs with the pitch. Dodd’s slider has come a long way since being drafted, but it’s the pitch that most often gets him in trouble. It runs in the same velocity range as his changeup, but with a more vertical shape that he has tinkered with since joining the Braves organization. The slider can also flash above average, but sits at average and it a weapon that he uses primarily against left handed hitters. All of his pitches interact well with each other, and his arsenal as a whole plays up with his command.
Growing pains are natural for any rookie pitcher, but Dodd seems uniquely set to rise to those challenges. He has three pitches that he can use to get outs and can locate them all well giving him the apparent floor of a number 4 starter. Dodd is going to benefit from having two catchers in Travis d’Arnaud and Sean Murphy who are fantastic pitch-framers, as he throws so many of his pitches in the borders of the strike zone he will be able to net a lot of strikes out of them. Dodd’s major weakness is his ability to pitch through a lineup multiple times, as his sequences were too often predictable and while both of his offspeed pitches are solid neither are elite. This is another area where d’Arnaud and Murphy could be beneficial, as the veteran game callers will be able to manage Dodd better than the catchers he had at the minor league level and hopefully mitigate Dodd’s shortcomings. It’s not often a pitcher seems ready to immediately come on board and be a solid option every fifth day, but Dodd is one of the rare players with the command, poise, and arsenal fit for a major league rotation. There is #3 upside for Dodd especially if the slider shows a more consistent shape, and while Dodd may not be the Braves first option he has the capability to force their hands on keeping him in the starting five.