By Rob Rains
When Major League Baseball eliminated short-season clubs and reduced the draft from 40 rounds to 20 three years ago, they created a new league, designed to give draft-eligible players an extra place to perform in front of scouts in the month leading up to the draft.
Jacob Odle is glad they did.
“I don’t think I get picked nearly as high as I did or even do without the draft league,” Odle said on Tuesday after he was selected by the Cardinals in the 14th round.
Odle, a 6-foot-5 righthander, had pitched only 14 1/3 innings over 13 games this spring for Orange Coast College in California before his advisor, scouts and coaches helped him land a spot in the bullpen of the State College Spikes in the Draft League.
Between June 1 and July 4, Odle appeared in 11 games, pitching 13 1/3 innings. He finished with a 2.03 ERA but perhaps his most impressive statistic, and the one that no doubt influenced the Cardinals’ selection, was that he struck out 29 of the 57 batters he faced.
“I learned that I’ve got good stuff,” Odle said. “It might have taken a little bit for me to get some confidence and really believe that, but I wholeheartedly believe that now.”
After throwing his fastball between 94 and 97 miles per hour this spring, Odle hit 99 on the radar gun this summer.
“I finally had the results I wanted,” Odle said. “I had the confidence to throw the ball and felt like everything started to come together pretty well. I can’t wait to bring it to the Cardinals.”
The State College manager is former Baltimore manager Dave Trembley, and the pitching coach is Jerome Williams, who spent 11 years in the majors, including a short stint with the Cardinals.
“Being able to work with Jerome was huge for me,” Odle said. “He was awesome. And being managed by Trembley was an experience in itself. To be part of that and experience that as a 19-year-old kid finishing up my second year of college was huge for me in figuring out how to do things the right way.
“Jerome just really helped me with not letting the game speed up on me and staying comosed. I will forever be grateful for the opportunity to play in that league.”
Odle, a native of San Diego, originally went to Cal-Irvine as a freshman but after redshirting that season transferred to the junior college. He had several Division I offers for next season, but did not want to commit to a program until the draft was over.
Now he is committing to the Cardinals.
“He really locked it in in the draft league and I think that helped him out with his draft stock,” said Nate Johnson, the Orange Coast coach. “His arm and talent are definitely there. It was just a matter of time before it clicked and he got locked in and someone was able to take a chance, and the Cardinals were that team.
“His fastball is the main thing, but he had a hard slider and was starting to develop a changeup. He’s definitely someone if he continues to get stronger will be throwing over 100 mph pretty soon.”
Randy Flores, the Cardinals’ assistant general manager and director of scouting, admitted that the extra looks scouts were able to get in the draft league had an impact on Odle’s selection.
“This was just a great example of it all (different departments) coming together,” Flores said. “His area scout Chris Rodriguez was adamant about continuing to make sure we were aware of Jacob’s increase in stuff and strike throwing.
“He’s a very intriguing arm, intriguing young man and he was ready to begin his pro career. A lot of people deserve credit there.”
Odle was actually one of two players selected by the Cardinals on the third day of the draft who played in that league. Infielder Trey Paige, their 17th round choice from Delaware State, played for the Trenton Thunder last month.
“The draft league and the summer programming is a vital part of our final evaluation,” Flores said. “Anytime kids are able to extend their season … when you are able to have additional opportunities I think it does help their cause.
“Add the combine to that. I know last year there were several players who got drafted because they were able to prove in the combine that they were healthy, relative to where they would have been absent the combine.
“One of the things that we have to guard against is not putting too much into the last look. There is a body of work of several years and that’s something we weigh in our scout meetings about how much emphasis we want to put on their most recent look as opposed to the larger body of work.”
Of their 19 picks in the three-day draft, the Cardinals selected 16 players from four-year colleges, two from junior college and made one high school selection.
They used their final pick in the 20th round on lefthanded pitcher Cameron Johnson from IMG Academy in Florida. He was considered one of the top high school pitchers in the class but is likely to honor his commitment to LSU instead of signing with the Cardinals.
Here is the complete list of the Cardinals’ day 3 draft selections:
Round 11 – Dakota Harris, SS, Oklahoma
Round 12 – Brayden Jobert, OF, LSU
Round 13 – William Sullivan, 1B, Troy University
Round 14 – Jacob Odle, RHP, Orange County College (Calif.)
Round 15 – Tre Richardson, SS, TCU
Round 16 – Tyler Brandt, RHP, East Carolina
Round 17 – Trey Paige, 3B, Delaware State
Round 18 – Hunter Kublick, RHP, Umpqua Community College (Ore.)
Round 19 – Greyen Tarlow, C, Cal-State Northridge
Round 20 – Cameron Johnson, LHP, IMG Academy (Fla.)
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains
Photo of Jacob Odle by Steve Manuel courtesy of State College Spikes