‘Who is this Dodd guy?’ Prospect closes in on rotation spot

March 15th, 2023

NORTH PORT, Fla. -- Was even considered a long shot for the Braves' rotation when Spring Training began?

“I saw him on the back field and I was like, ‘Who is this Dodd guy?’” Braves manager Brian Snitker said.

Well, Dodd is a young left-hander constructing an unexpected underdog story. Asked if he had envisioned being one of the last two guys battling for the final spot in Atlanta’s rotation, Dodd tilted his head, smirked and said, “To be honest, probably not.”

But less than two years after ending his collegiate career at Southeast Missouri State University, Dodd stands with as the top two candidates to begin the season as Atlanta’s fifth starter. The two southpaws moved to the forefront of this rotation battle on Tuesday, when and were both optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett.

“You come to Spring Training and you never know where that [Tyler] Matzek is going to come from or those kinds of stories,” Snitker said. “It gets exciting when your young players start taking strides forward. It’s good to see that. It just adds to the strength of your organization.”

Anderson, 24, is less than two years removed from his impressive start in Game 3 of the 2021 World Series that propelled the Braves toward a championship and left him with a 1.26 ERA through eight career postseason starts. He still has the potential to be an effective pitcher for many years to come, but the early weeks of Spring Training indicated Anderson hasn’t distanced himself from the woes that sent him back to Gwinnett last August.

As Anderson attempts to right himself, the Braves are prepared to give a couple prospects a chance to prove themselves. Shuster’s bid for a rotation spot comes earlier than expected, but isn’t a complete surprise given he is a first-round pick (2020) and is Atlanta’s No. 1 prospect per MLB Pipeline.

Dodd’s ascension to a legit rotation candidate is more similar to predicting a No. 15 seed to upset a No. 2 seed in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

“To be honest, I didn’t even think pro ball was an option for me until maybe my junior year in college,” Dodd said. “In high school, I threw 84 miles per hour. Then in junior college, I might have gotten up to 88 or something like that. I was able to go to a mid-major college because I threw the ball in the zone and gave the team a chance to win.”

Dodd received a $122,500 signing bonus after the Braves took him in the third round of the 2021 MLB Draft. To further highlight his underdog story, this bonus pales in comparison to those given to Anderson ($4 million in 2016), Shuster ($2,197,500 in '20) and Elder ($850,000 in '20).

But Dodd has taken advantage of every opportunity, including the extra year of eligibility he gained following the COVID-19 shutdown in 2020.  He continued to mature physically and suddenly found himself with a mid-90s fastball and better secondary stuff (changeup and slider).  

Like Spencer Strider last year, Dodd came to this year’s Spring Training with just one full year of professional experience. But it was an impressive one. He posted a 3.36 ERA and produced a 26 percent strikeout rate while combining to make 26 starts for High-A Rome, Double-A Mississippi and Gwinnett last year.

Dodd ranks as the Braves' No. 10 prospect, but the Major League coaches weren’t too familiar with him before seeing him baffle some established big leaguers during live batting practice sessions last month.

“I watched this kid throw against Ronald Acuña and all of those guys,” Snitker said. “We had the pitch clock and it was like he was maneuvering the pitch clock by waiting it down and throwing the ball over. You look at the reaction of those guys. If we make a couple plays for him against the Dominican Republic, that story is different against that kind of competition.”

Dodd limited a powerful Dominican lineup to one hit before allowing five runs in the third inning of a World Baseball Classic exhibition game on March 8. He’ll enter Saturday’s start against the Phillies having not allowed a run through 8 1/3 Grapefruit League innings.

Though Dodd might not have expected this opportunity, he has earned it.

“A few years ago, it took Minor Leaguers a really long time to go through the levels,” Dodd said. “The Braves have shown if you perform well, they’ll push you. I think that’s a great thing.”