WINSTON-SALEM More attention, more demands on his time and better competition are just a few things Carlos Rodon will have to deal with as a professional baseball player.
But Rodon, 21, a left-handed pitcher, won’t shy away from those challenges. He also won’t shy away from the expectations of the Chicago White Sox, who drafted him at No. 3 overall this year.
“I try not to look those expectations,” said Rodon, a former N.C. State star whose signing included a bonus of $6.582 million. “I’m just playing baseball, and all I worry about are my expectations. That’s all that matters to me.”
Rodon made his Carolina League debut for the Winston-Salem Dash on Wednesday afternoon, pitching one inning in a 12-2 victory against the Frederick Keys.
There was plenty of buzz, and extra local television cameras, at the ballpark from those who wanted a look at the White Sox’ highest draft pick since Harold Baines went No. 1 in 1977.
Rodon threw 33 pitches, 19 for strikes, but also walked two and allowed two runs and a hit. He struck out three, but the third strike of his second strikeout, a low slider, got away from catcher Michael Marjama, and Steel Russell reached first base.
The slider certainly was a major-league pitch, probably something Marjama hadn’t seen this season.
“It was just fun to get back out there again,” said Rodon, 6-foot-3 and 235 pounds. “I’m playing on a helluva team, and they can really hit, so, like I said, it’s just nice to get back out there again.”
Since ending the season at N.C. State, Rodon has been on a strict pitch count. He had two appearances in the Arizona Rookie League before being assigned to Winston-Salem.
He logged 982/3 innings as a junior with the Wolfpack this spring and finished his career with a 25-10 record, a 2.24 ERA and 436 strikeouts in 3452/3 innings.
“I’m getting that feel back,” Rodon said of his long layoff. “I’m working on my changeup, and I used it there some in that inning. That thing is coming along well, and I’m getting the feel for the fastball and change-up back, but it’s going to take a couple more outings. That’s the way it works.”
Pitching coach J.R. Perdew of the Dash will work with the White Sox’ upper management in bringing Rodon along slowly, but he said he was very pleased with the debut.
“He threw well,” Perdew said. “It was his first time, and he probably felt a little pressure, and it’s normal to feel that way. He was aggressive and he attacked the plate, and he shows a plus-plus slider, a plus-plus fastball and a plus-plus change-up. He struck out three, and I’m sure he’d like to have the two walks back.”
Manager Tommy Thompson couldn’t say how long Rodon will be in Winston-Salem but said he probably will pitch again this weekend in a series against Lynchburg.
“It’s just baseball,” Rodon said of the transition from college to the minor leagues. “It’s just a different level.”
Rodon entered in the eighth inning with the Dash ahead 8-0. He struck out leadoff batter Jerome Pena, then struck out Russell, who ended up at first on the wild pitch.
“To be honest, I hadn’t heard of him before,” Russell said of Rodon. “The other guys had heard of him, but when you face a guy like that who is supposed to be pretty good, you can’t think about it. You have to go out there with your same approach.
“He pitched pretty well, and I thought he did a good job.”
Johnny Ruettiger walked after the wild pitch, then Adrian Marin flied out. The Keys loaded the bases when Rodon walked another, then designated hitter Chih-Hsien Chiang hit a sharp single to score two. Rodon then struck out Jason Esposito to end the inning.
“I don’t really think it was shaky inning,” Thompson said. “It’s his first game here in (North) Carolina, and I’m sure his adrenaline was at a high level. He threw some quality pitches. He struck out the first two guys, but I think he pitched well.”
It’s a tradition in minor-league baseball that top draft picks who make short stops on their way to the majors buy their teammates dinner. Rodon hasn’t sprung for the post-game spread yet.
“That’s coming soon,” he said with a smile.
The Winston-Salem Journal is a news partner of The News & Observer.
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