(Photo via Ethan Epstein, DailyCal.org)
After receiving just one at bat in his freshman season, Cal’s Tanner Dodson has cemented himself as one of the best two-way players at the Division 1 level, and his recent performance has carried him higher and higher on MLB draft boards.
Dodson is hitting .318 as Cal’s everyday centerfielder, and has a 2.48 ERA with 11 saves as their closer, but his most impressive feat may have come last summer with the Wareham Gatemen in the Cape Cod league.
Dodson signed with the Gatemen before his sophomore season, so he was expected to be exclusively a pitcher. In his sophomore year at Cal, Dodson earned some at bats and eventually earned the centerfield spot while hitting .299.
“After the season, [Wareham’s] GM told me to bring my outfield stuff and they’d try to give me some at bats,” Dodson said. “He said nothing was guaranteed, but a couple of [Wareham’s] outfielders were at the College World Series still, so that opened up a few doors for me and I just kind of ran with that.”
Dodson earned everyday playing time once again, and hit .365 with a .461 OBP to lead the prestigious collegiate summer league.
“It was a lot of fun,” Dodson said. “Originally I was supposed to go there and just play once a week in the field, and they said they’d find me some at bats here and there. I opened up pretty successfully and just worked myself into the lineup every day. It was fun just going out there with the best guys in the country, and just competing every day.”
Growing up Dodson was a two-way player at every level through high school, like many elite talents. That changed when he got to Cal, and his 92-mph fastball made him an enticing pitching prospect.
“People hinted at me after high school that I was going to be a pitcher at college, and my freshman year my coaches hinted at that too,” Dodson said. “They only gave me one at bat. I just kept hitting and working at it. I had a good fall before my sophomore year, so they put me in the lineup, and I kept hitting so I’ve been able to do it since.”
Initially, Dodson was perceived as an interesting pitching prospect at the MLB level, but his big performance at the dish last summer may have made him more enticing as a hitter. Also, Dodson is not ruling out continuing to play both ways.
“I want to keep it going as long as I can,” Dodson said. “I just want to stay involved in the game in as many ways as I can. I just wanted to keep both doors open, and go out there to play every day. Honestly though, if I’m lucky enough to get drafted, I’ll do whatever the team wants me to do.”
With Shohei Ohtani’s prominence as a successfully two-way player at the MLB level, and top pick Brendan McKay continuing to play both ways in the Rays system, teams are starting to become more open to experimenting with two-way players.
“I think it’s going to have to take a special talent to play two ways at the big league level. Even Ohtani is DH’ing when he’s not pitching,” Dodson said. “I think it’s going to be harder for someone to play a premium defensive position and pitch as well. It’s too tough on the body to hold up through 162 games.
“Honestly though, I’m willing to do whatever I can to help the team win ball games.”
Players say that every day, but Dodson means it more than most.