A full fortnight into his first full professional season, Carlos Rodon will have a spot on the Chicago White Sox pitching staff.
Even though the White Sox have a more radical (and wholly successful) early promotion in their recent history with Chris Sale, Rodon's rapid ascension still raises a fair amount of eyebrows. So here's a quick briefing to answer the most pressing questions and concerns I've seen, heard and am anticipating.
He was just drafted, right?
Yup, last June. As a big-bodied lefty with a dominating slider and a mid-90s fastball, he was the preseason No. 1 pick, but an up-and-down year (by his standards) cast doubt on that standing. Moreover, Rodon was represented by Scott Boras, meaning any team drafting him wouldn't be able to apply any budget pool savings downdraft.
That was enough for the Astros and Marlins to take high school pitchers with the first two picks. The Astros selected Brady Aiken, and the Marlins picked Tyler Kolek. Both teams had under-slot agreements, although the Astros and Aiken turned into a clan feud over a leaked UCL abnormality that resulted in both sides going their separate ways.
The White Sox bit the Boras bullet and drafted Rodon with the third pick. They determined the maximum amount they could pay him (the leftover pool money plus the 5 percent taxed overage) by signing the other nine picks over the first 10 rounds. Rodon's $6.582 million signing bonus used up all but $585 of the remaining money available.
So why is he coming up now?
Well, it would have been Opening Day if the team didn't have to wait 11 days to ensure an extra year of team control, because he's one of their 12 best pitchers (probably the fourth-best starter and second-best reliever, to be more specific). The Sox waited a few days after that threshold because Rodon started for Charlotte on Thursday, and wouldn't have been able to pitch, anyway.
Why was the Kris Bryant thing a bigger deal then?
Because Bryant was drafted a year before Rodon, and spent the 2014 season dominating Double-A and Triple-A in the Cubs organization. Rodon, by comparison, only pitched 24 innings across nine games in his professional career entering this season. That isn't a whole lot of minor-league experience unless you're talking about Chris Sale. The Sox had the seasoning excuse on their side, whereas Bryant had to repeat an experience he already aced as a stalling tactic.
Is 24 innings enough?
It's 34 innings now.
Sorry. Is 34 innings enough?
Pretty much. The Sox had to tie one arm behind his back to give him a challenge in Charlotte, forcing him to lean on his changeup and fastball in situations that would have normally called for that sweet, sweet slider (and since his slider has a choice of two tilts, it's almost like the changeup is a fourth pitch).
At any rate, the Sox could have continued honing those aspects further, but Triple-A hitters didn't have much more, if anything, to teach him, and there isn't a law against throwing more sliders than changeups. So, they may as well use him in games that count, and let him improve his command and changeup against elite competition the way Sale did.
Can I see a GIF of this slider?
If Rodon's coming up, who's going down?
Kyle Drabek sure looks like one of them. He's probably lucky he held the Tigers scoreless on Sunday, because Robin Ventura likely would have left him out there to finish the game even if Detroit rocked him (see: Ohman, Will).
But if Jake Petricka is also on the way back, then the Sox will have to shift a second pitcher, and that's more difficult to determine. Assessing the typical categories:
- Options: Zach Putnam is the only one.
- Performance: Putnam has a 9.00 ERA, although his last two outings were sharp.
- Usefulness: Javy Guerra has only faced seven batters over his 1⅔ innings. Everybody else has thrown at least four innings.
This looks like bad news for Putnam, although the Sox could try to buy time with a DL stint for one of the other mid-leverage guys It's a remarkable departure from last year, though, when you look at the White Sox' relievers and figure most of them wouldn't make it through waivers.
Relievers? But isn't there a greater need in the rotation?
Give it a week or two. At the moment, it's hard to tell whether John Danks or Hector Noesi is more likely to step up his game (Noesi's first start was a disaster, but he's probably not that bad).
In the meantime, Rodon will have a chance to get his feet wet against two lefty-heavy clubs in Cleveland and Kansas City, and based on how silly Rodon made the Royals look in March, Ventura should be able to find a lot of work for the new guy. It could even take the form of a multi-inning appearance, affording Ventura to use a short leash on the rotation's weak links.
Can I see another slider?
Bullpen or rotation, aren't there too many lefties?
Not really. I mean, Rodon terrorizes lefties, but he's got the stuff to overwhelm right-handed hitters, too. It's not like he's a LOOGY or anything.
What if it's too much too soon for him?
It's possible he could stumble, but there's a reason Rodon is a Boras client. It's a combination of talent, confidence and competitiveness that will make him unlikely to sign an early extension, basically. He looks the part of a pro when you see him field questions, and various White Sox said he played his cards right during spring training.
By all accounts, he seems to know what's up, and nobody expects him to return to Charlotte.
Is there an innings limit?
Probably, but it won't be a hard number, since that only complicates matters. When starters still look strong while approaching a given limit, it turns into its own story. The Sox typically go by feel in these situations. In Sale's case, he threw 192 innings when the general idea for a successful season was something like 160. He might have come closer to that lower number had the Sox been out of the running, but contending until the final series made Sale starts necessary. The Sox thought he could withstand the stress, even if his stuff wasn't as electric down the stretch, and he held up OK.
This is one reason why the Sox might take their time installing Rodon in the rotation if Danks and Noesi snap out of their funks. But if one of those guys is truly untenable, I imagine the Sox will start Rodon every fifth day at the onset, then look at off days as a way to to rearrange the rotation or skip starts to suppress the mileage.
I wanna see more sliders.
Not a question, but OK.
This is going to be fun, isn't it?
There aren't many better reasons to watch, that's for certain.