Carlos Rodon looks like a major league pitcher. The 6-foot-3 left-hander has nasty stuff, including an electric fastball and a wipeout slider. He arrived at his first spring training with a record of success, running from N.C. State to his first splash of pro ball last year.
The only question about Rodon’s big league debut is the date.
After just 24 2/3 innings in the minors, Rodon, 22, is pushing for a spot on Chicago’s opening-day roster. He could grab a bullpen role but is being treated as a starter for now – giving manager Robin Ventura another option while ace Chris Sale recovers from a broken right foot.
“Mentally, I’m strong enough,” Rodon said before Monday’s game against Arizona. “Never really been in a situation of pitching, obviously never having made my major league debut yet. Haven’t pitched in a major league game. That’s a different world. I can’t answer that question for you because I’ve never been in the situation.
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“When that day comes and after that start, you’ll find out and I’ll tell you.”
Rodon made his spring training debut on Friday against San Diego and struck out four in two scoreless innings. Cameron Maybin, Yonder Alonso and Clint Barmes went down swinging, and Jedd Gyorko looked at a called third strike.
“I mean, he’s got the stuff that like does it for you,” catcher Rob Brantly said. “It’s not so much me setting up on the corner. His arm action and the movement on his ball, obviously it’s tough to hit.”
Rodon said he had a conversation with catcher Geovany Soto that helped him get mentally ready for his first start. Like everyone with the White Sox, Soto also is interested to see whether Rodon is ready for the majors.
“He has to show that,” Soto said. “I feel that stuff-wise, absolutely, he’s got great stuff. He’s got a good fastball, great command of his fastball. He’s got a good changeup, slider. I mean stuff-wise, he’s got the stuff to be one of the great ones. He’s just got to go at his pace and do what he can do in the field and see what happens.”
Rodon, who pitches again on Wednesday against Texas, was born in Miami and grew up in Holly Springs. He was selected by Milwaukee in the 16th round of the 2011 amateur draft and opted to stay close to home for college ball with the Wolfpack.
The decision to wait on pro ball paid off, with Rodon raising his stock with three impressive seasons at N.C. State. He went 9-0 with a 1.57 ERA during his freshman season, and helped the Wolfpack reach the College World Series during his sophomore season. He finished with a school-record 436 strikeouts.
“I learned a lot from it. Grew up a lot,” Rodon said. “When you’re on your own for three years but parents are only 20 minutes down the road, you have some leeway and then they’ll bring you back down to earth, too.”
Rodon was widely regarded as the most major league ready prospect heading into last year’s draft, and the White Sox grabbed him with the No. 3 pick. It was their highest slot since they drafted Harold Baines No. 1 overall in 1977.
Rodon quickly marched through Chicago’s minor league system, making two appearances in rookie league before moving to Class A Winston-Salem and finishing the year with Class AAA Charlotte. He had a 2.92 ERA and averaged 13.9 strikeouts per nine innings.
Next up could be a return to the Knights, or a trip to Kansas City for Chicago’s first game on April 6.
“There’s a lot more that goes to it than just we saw him throw a good slider the other day, he’s now ready to go,” Ventura said. “I think a lot of people are getting hyped up. We’re excited about him, too, but the last thing we want to do is put him in a spot where he might not have all the tools in the chest to be able to get everybody out on a consistent basis and stay here forever.”