After a disappointing blow out loss against the Tigers, White Sox fans were relieved Sunday night when Ken Rosenthal reported that Carlos Rodon will be joining the team in Chicago on Monday as they start a seven game homestand.
When the 2013 season spiraled away from the White Sox, groupthink among the fans set in, and they started clamoring for the all too popular NFL and NBA strategy of “tanking.” All over the Internet this movement was pegged the #RoadToRodon. Which in short meant, lose as many games as possible to get a chance at drafting the projected 1st overall pick, Carlos Rodon.
In June 2013, Rodon, then a sophomore at North Carolina State, just finished his second straight season of baffling ACC hitters and beat the rival #2 North Carolina Tar Heels in their first game of the College World Series. Rodon’s Wolfpack eventually got eliminated from the College World Series with him on the mound against those same Tarheels, but the lefty had already done enough to cement his place as the top college-pitching prospect since David Price. As the MLB season came to a close, the White Sox ended up with third overall pick behind the position prospect packed Astros as well as Rodon’s hometown Miami Marlins. As far as the #RoadtoRodon, many White Sox fans considered their chances at grabbing the pitchers to be minimal.
Over that 2013-2014 offseason, I attended the minor league seminar at SoxFest 2014. Doug Laumann, the White Sox Director of Amateur Scouting, held the responsibility of overseeing the draft process. Laumann fielded questions from the White Sox faithful and while this seminar usually could get a bit awkward given most fans’ lack of knowledge towards the White Sox minor leagues, that year was entirely different. Given the White Sox first top five pick since 1990 as well as the eminence of Rodon, Laumann was probed about what the White Sox brain trust was expecting for the coming draft. Without getting too pointed, Laumann divulged, “There’s five or six guys were looking at and one we hold in particularly high respect.” Without saying Carlos Rodon, the room knew exactly whom he was talking about.
As the next baseball season rolled around, Rodon failed to live up to the high expectations. Although Rodon’s stats weren’t any bit concerning, reports on his velocity had his fastball at 89-92 rather than the 93-95 he was toting in his sophomore campaign. This lack of velocity, along with the disappearance of his change up, had many MLB draft pundits placing him outside of the #1 spot he had held for over a year. The optimistic were saying his velocity being down was normal for young pitcher in the beginning of a season while the pessimistic argued he may have topped out too early and his mechanics, specifically his wicked trunk flexion, were a serious cause for concern.
As the season moved along and Rodon’s velocity came back, Rodon still had some doubters. Come draft week, it was clear which players would be going in the first few picks but largely unclear of the order. California prep Brady Aiken saw his stock rocket to the top and his union with the Astros was leaked just prior to the draft starting. That left Tyler Kolek, the hardest throwing high school pitcher of the modern draft era, as well as Rodon as the probable #2 and #3 picks. Sources have since told FutureSox that the White Sox were split between Rodon and LSU product Aaron Nola at #3. The Marlins, much alike the White Sox, have always kept their picks close to vest. To add fuel to the fire, both Kolek and Rodon made a lot of sense for Miami. Kolek was the high-upside, high school talent Miami always had a predilection for and Rodon, a Miami-born kid of Cuban descent, made for a very marketable option for Miami. Eventually, Bud Selig made his way to the podium and made the announcement: the Marlins picked Kolek, and the Sox draft room rejoiced.
When Rick Hahn spoke to season ticket holders last July he told us just how happy the front office was that day, “Carlos was the guy we wanted when 2013 circled away from us. You’ll hear a lot of guys in baseball say they got “their guy,” but I really mean it when I say Carlos was the guy we were focused on.” Rick Hahn and the White Sox did get their guy but they were nervous when Houston and Miami were on the clock. Rodon found himself in the same shoes as he got nervous every time didn’t hear his name as he told us when I interviewed him in January. Despite the high stakes on draft day, both parties seem happy to be together.
After taking their time getting him signed, the White Sox sent their new lefty to the Arizona League for a quick stint before heading to class-A Winston-Salem. Rodon dominated to a tune of 15 strikeouts in 9.2 innings and a sparkling 1.86 ERA. After just four games the left-hander was sent up to AAA Charlotte. With the minor league season winding down, Rodon only had time for three starts and perhaps a jump to the Major Leagues when the rosters expanded in September. With competition getting stiffer, Rodon continued to make hitters whiff at about the same clip (18 SOs in 12IP) and showed that there was an argument he was ready for the show. Despite that, Rick Hahn and front office decided to have Rodon pass on the majors and a September call-up, and rest up for the next year.
As early as we are into the 2015 season, Carlos Rodon has continued to impress. Towards the end of Spring Training, Rodon shut down the Royals, who featured the majority of their starters, by striking out 8 and walking no one over four innings. The Twittersphere gazed over his slider that mystified very familiar Kansas City bats. Beyond what he did on the field, Rodon has received rave reviews from his teammates writes Dan Hayes of Comcast SportsNet.
With the juxtaposition to Kris Bryant’s call up on the North Side as well as the Blackhawks and Bulls playoff runs starting, it may seem like the perfect time for the White Sox brass to get a muse from the Chicago media, but few could argue that this NC State product is anything but ready for the big leagues. Especially coming out of the bullpen, as Ken Rosenthal has reported he will, Rodon’s devastating slider is joining the team at the perfect time with left-handed heavy divisional foes in Cleveland and Kansas City coming to town. The first chapter of the Carlos Rodon-White Sox marriage has now come to a close, with the next chapter beginning any day.
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