On March 25 against the Kansas City Royals, Carlos Rodon, the Chicago White Sox’s top pitching prospect, turned in his most dominant performance of the spring.
Rodon, the former N.C. State left-hander who was the No. 3 overall pick in last year’s MLB draft struck out, in order, established major leaguers Alcides Escobar, Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer.
In their second look at Rodon, 22, Escobar and Hosmer struck out again.
By the end of the day, Rodon had nine strikeouts with no walks in four innings.
“The fastball command was good,” said Rodon, who isn’t expected to pitch when the White Sox take on the Knights in an exhibition in Charlotte at BB&T BallPark on Friday. “I got ahead and was able to throw the slider.”
That’s impressive, but a deeper look into Rodon’s day shows why he was assigned to Charlotte to open the 2015 season.
Throwing to his former N.C. State catcher Brett Austin, Rodon relied heavily on his fastball and slider and all but forgot about his weakest pitch – the changeup.
All nine of Rodon’s strikeouts came via the slider.
“That’s not going to be the repertoire long term,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn told ESPN. “You’re not going to be throwing 40-plus percent sliders for a long time. ... In our opinion, Carlos can be a front-end type starter, and it’s a matter of developing him along those lines and getting him there.”
Rodon’s repertoire includes a fastball that can reach as high as 97 mph and a wipeout slider, pitches that could easily help him transition into an elite major league reliever.
Hahn and the White Sox, though, see Rodon as a future No. 1 starter.
But their version has – and utilizes – three above-average pitches. And the White Sox strongly believe that Rodon’s changeup can be one.
Rodon made one last Cactus League start following his dazzling performance last Wednesday – against the Los Angeles Dodgers this past Tuesday – and what he featured was a lot closer to what fans in Charlotte will likely get accustomed to seeing.
Rodon allowed one run over 5 1/3 innings. He walked two and struck out two, throwing 90 pitches – 20 of which were changeups. Less than 10 were sliders.
“(The slider) gets me out of jams, but I’d love to rely on that changeup to get me out of it as well,” Rodon told the Chicago Tribune following the start. “The fastball-slider is so good that it’s hard to stray away from that, but in the long run the changeup is going to make me even better.”
To get an idea of what the White Sox think Rodon could become, one team official offered San Francisco Giants ace Madison Bumgarner as a comparison.
Bumgarner made Kansas City Royals hitters cringe over the course of three appearances in the 2014 World Series.
“(Rodon is) going to be a mainstay toward the front end of our rotation for a long time,” Hahn told the Tribune.
He’s showing signs. In five Cactus League appearances this spring, Rodon had a 3.06 ERA with five walks and 21 strikeouts (over 17 2/3).
It’s easy to forget that Rodon has just 24 1/3 regular-season innings pitched as a professional – including 12 with the Knights late last season. Rodon is tentatively slated to make his 2015 Charlotte debut on April 11 in the Knights’ third game of the season.
White Sox officials haven’t put a timetable on Rodon’s debut in Chicago.
“I haven’t pitched a big-league inning yet,” Rodon told the Chicago Sun Times on Tuesday. “When that time comes we’ll see if I really belong. And I’m looking forward to it.”