Tigers Prospect Austin Sodders Is Deceptively Good

Austin Sodders is building a groundswell of support among prospect followers. Ranking among the leaders in multiple Midwest League pitching categories has a way of doing that. In 10 starts for the West Michigan Whitecaps, the 22-year-old southpaw in the Detroit Tigers organization has a 1.39 ERA, a 0.98 WHIP, and is striking out a batter per inning. And while W-L records are to be taken with a large grain of salt, there’s certainly nothing wrong with being a perfect 6-0.

Sodders was selected in the seventh round of last year’s draft, so it’s fair to say that he’s exceeding expectations. At the same time, it’s not as though he came out of nowhere. The UC Riverside product passed up a chance to sign with the Pirates out of a junior college in 2015, and he comes from a baseball family. His father, Mike Sodders, is a former first-round pick by the Twins, and his older brother, Mike, Jr., had a stint in the Angels system.

Sodders wasn’t certain where he’d end up when last June’s draft rolled around. He knew the Tigers were among the teams interested in him, but they hadn’t — nor had anyone else — supplied him with any concrete expectations. They have, however, helped him build a more solid foundation since bringing him into the fold.

A retooled breaking ball has been a boon to his development. When I mentioned that the Baseball America Prospect Handbook says his slider will “morph into a small cutter at times,” he knew exactly what they meant. For that reason, the pitch is now in his rear-view.

“I’ve actually started to throw more of a curveball now,” said Sodders. “At times, in short-season last year, yeah, I’d throw a slider and it would come out pretty hard. I can see why they’d say it kind of turned into a cutter. So our pitching coach here with the Whitecaps [Jorge Cordova] has been helping me get more of a 12-6 action on a curveball. The action on my breaking ball is better now, and it’s a more consistent pitch for me.”

Baseball America also opined that Sodders “gets his outs on deception and command,” and the lanky lefty largely agrees with that, as well.

“That sounds about right,” Sodders told me. “I’ve heard that I’ve got some deception, although that’s not something I’m actually trying to get. I think it comes from my arm action and my natural body path. When I wind back, and go through my motion, my hand kind of stays behind my body, so hitters don’t really get a clean look at the ball out of my hand until the pitch is already getting on them.”

Sodders is neither a soft-tosser nor a flamethrower. His sneaky-fast heater ranges from the high 80s to the low 90s, while his changeup — “definitely my second-best pitch; I command it well to both sides of the zone” — sits 80-82, and his newly fashioned curveball is generally around 76-78.

His deception isn’t the only non-contrived quirk that plays to his advantage. Sodders’ fastball isn’t cookie-cutter in terms of the movement you’d expect from his grip.

“My fastball is a four-seam, but it has some natural run to it, so it’s kind of a two-seam even though it’s not a two-seam,” explained Sodders. “It’s a four-seam with a lot of arm-side run, especially when I throw it to that side of the plate. I don’t know why that is, but it’s what it does.”

Sodders will represent the Whitecaps in the Midwest League All-Star Game later this month.

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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6 years ago

I had the chance to watch Sodders in person back on May 6th, when he threw six shutout innings on 85 pitches, striking out 9. The stadium radar gun had his fastball in the 88-89 range, touching 91, as the article states. I do think he benefits from his defense and ballpark, as the Whitecaps’ stadium suppresses home runs to a significant degree (I don’t have specific numbers, but out of probably 10ish games I have attended, I have seen maybe two home runs. And Whitecap hitters rarely have high home run totals, backing me up a bit.) He gave up a lot of solid contact that night (7 line drives by my count, 5 of them caught).