By Rich Arleo
CBS Local Sports, in our 30 Players 30 Days spring training feature, profiles one young player from each Major League Baseball team leading up to opening day.
Carlos Rodon, Starting pitcher, Chicago White Sox
2015 season (Majors): 26 G, 23 GS, 139.1 IP, 3.75 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 9 W, 139 SO, 71 BB
It didn’t take Carlos Rodon very long to become a good starting pitcher in the Major Leagues, and it shouldn’t take much longer for him to become a co-ace alongside Chris Sale for the White Sox.
Drafted No. 3 overall by Chicago in 2014, Rodon went from Rookie ball all the way up to Triple-A that year, posting a 2.96 ERA in nine games across three levels. It was almost like the Minors were a formality for Rodon, and after only two starts for Triple-A last year (basically to delay his service-time clock and gain another year of control), the left-hander got the call to the bigs and made his White Sox debut in late April.
Rodon pitched three games out of the bullpen before becoming a starter for the rest of the year, and he wasted no time showing his biggest strengths and flaws. Rodon was a strikeout machine, managing an excellent 10.1 SwStr% (swinging-strike percentage) while striking out a batter per inning. He was also a base-on-balls machine, walking 4.59 per nine innings, which helped balloon his WHIP to almost 1.5.
While the walk rate was a bit shocking, even for a 22-year-old rookie, Rodon showed improved control in the second half of the season and cut his walk rate down from 13.9 to 9.7 percent. The second half was better in almost every way for Rodon, as he showed impressive progression in a short period of time. He ended the year on an eight-game quality start streak, going 5-2 with a 1.81 ERA and .198 BAA (batting average against).
Rodon’s money maker is his slider, a pitch that was rated 9.9 runs above average and had a .247 weighted on-base average against last year, according to Fangraphs. The left-hander’s fastball sits at around 94 miles per hour and crippled left-handed hitters last year, but wasn’t as effective against righties, who hit .272 against him as opposed to the .194 average lefties posted. His third pitch is his changeup, and developing that has been a focus this spring, along with improving his fastball command.
In his second Spring Training start, Rodon threw zero sliders and focused solely on his fastball and changeup. Even in abandoning his best pitch, he tossed four scoreless innings and struck out three. He’ll continue to make fastball control and changeup development his focus this spring and into the regular season, though the devastating slider obviously won’t be forgotten. Don’t expect a sophomore slump for Rodon in 2016. He’s not going to be perfect right out of the gate, but by midseason, the White Sox could find themselves with one of the best 1-2 punches in baseball at the top of the rotation.
Rich Arleo is a freelance sports writer and editor who covers Major League Baseball and fantasy sports. You can follow him on Twitter, @Rarleo.