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Deep Dive: left-handed starting pitcher edition, part 3

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Carlos Rodon: his past, present, and future with the White Sox

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Minnesota Twins
Core Component: Carlos Rodón is locked in with the White Sox through 2021.
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

“Deep Dive” focuses on the depth of each position in the Chicago White Sox organization. Each position will be a four-part series:

  1. Depth in the lower levels (Dominican through Kannapolis)
  2. Depth in the higher levels (Winston-Salem through Charlotte)
  3. Under the Radar-type detail on one of the White Sox players at that position
  4. Free-agent options at that position, plus sneak peeks into available players in the upcoming 2019 MLB draft.

This article delves into the career of Carlos Rodon through 2017, his 2018 season with the White Sox, and what his future looks like in the White Sox organization.

Carlos Rodón: how did he get here?

Rodon, a native of Miami, had a terrific run as the ace of the North Carolina State starting rotation. In 114 23 innings in his freshman season with the Wolfpack, Rodon posted an incredible 1.57 ERA and 0.98 WHIP, limiting hitters to 74 hits and 41 walks while striking out 135. The following season, he posted a 2.99 ERA and 1.05 WHIP in 132 innings by allowing just 94 hits and 45 walks while striking out a whopping 184 batters. Finally, in his junior season, he posted a 2.01 ERA and 1.17 WHIP over 98 23 innings by ceding 84 hits and 31 walks while fanning 117 hitters.

When he fell to the third pick in the 2014 MLB draft, the White Sox couldn’t resist selecting him. After receiving a signing bonus of $6.582 million, he pitched for three minor league squads (AZL, Winston-Salem, and Charlotte) as he was rushed through the system. That year, he posted an overall 2.92 ERA and 1.34 WHIP in 24 23 innings, as he relinquished 20 hits (.215 OBA) and 13 walks (12.0%) while striking out 38 hitters (35.2%).

After beginning the 2015 season with two starts in Charlotte, Rodón was promoted to Chicago on April 20. Despite his limited stints in the minors, Rodon held his own in 2015 to post a 3.75 ERA and 1.44 WHIP in 26 appearances (23 starts). In the 139 13 innings he pitched for the White Sox, he allowed 130 hits (.251 OBA) and 71 walks (11.7%) while striking out 139 (22.9%).

The following year in 2016, Rodon lowered his WHIP to 1.39 and improved his walk percentage to 7.6% and his strikeout percentage to 23.5%. However, in part because his OBA increased to 2.73 as his home run rate soared from 1.8% to 3.2%, Rodón’s ERA increased to 4.04. The 2016 campaign also saw Rodón’s first stint on the DL, a three-week absence due to a sprained left wrist in July.

Rodón was limited to 12 starts in 2017, thanks due to DL stints from April 2-June 7 for left biceps bursitis, and September 8 through the end of the year due to left shoulder inflammation — ultimately leading to arthroscopic shoulder surgery later that month. That surgery sounds quite scary, but it was really a debridement, which was the removal of damaged tissue with no structural concerns reported. In the 69 13 innings he pitched for the White Sox in 2017, he posted a 4.15 ERA and 1.37 WHIP while ceding 64 hits (.246 OBA) and 31 walks (10.4%) but fanning 75 hitters (25.3%). Thus, although Rodón’s control lapsed due in part to health-related issues, he still possessed the stuff to put hitters away.

Rodón with the White Sox in 2018

Rodón missed more than two months in 2018, as he was rehabilitating his shoulder. Once he was activated, he finished the season without any additional stays on the DL, and was able to complete 120 23 innings of work as a result. Although he finished with a career-high 4.18 ERA, his WHIP was actually a career best of 1.26. His .220 OBA was a career best as well, although his walk rate was high (10.8%) and his strikeout rate a career low (17.6%). In essence, Rodón’s season was simply a contradiction. The 2018 season is best analyzed by looking at what he did from June through August, and then comparing those results to his six outings in September:

  • June-August: 2.70 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, .178 OBA, 3.47 BB/9, 6.85 K/9
  • September: 9.22 ERA, 2.12 WHIP, .339 OBA, 6.26 BB/9, 6.26 K/9

Hopefully, the latter results was more about fatigue than additional health-related issues. Interviews toward the end of the season indicate Rodón seemed satisfied with his health, so hopefully it’s the latter. It’s still a concern that his strikeout rate declined (even when things were going well), but Rodón still posted incredible results through August nonetheless. Perhaps he’s now becoming a pitcher, rather than a thrower.

It probably doesn’t come as much surprise that Rodón’s most effective pitch this season was his wipe-out slider. While he threw it 26.2% of the time, averaging 85.4 mph, hitters slashed just .117/.163/.171 while whiffing 39.5% of the time against it. Against his four-seam fastball (thrown 47.3% of the time and averaging 92.9 mph), hitters slashed .257/.370/.422 while whiffing just 13.6% of the time on it. Rodón’s changeup, which he threw almost exclusively against righties, was thrown 14.4% of the time and averaged 85.1 mph; hitters slashed .246/.315/.446 against it, with a whiff rate of 22.8%. Finally, Rodón’s sinker actually had a little oomph, averaging 93.3 mph and thrown just 12.2% of the time, with hitters slashing .256/.341/.500 against it, with a whiff rate of 13.6%.

Rodón posted a 2.0 bWAR for the year. Considering each bWAR is worth approximately $7.7 million per FanGraphs, along with his 2018 salary of $2 million, Rodon produced a net value of $13.4 million. Provided the White Sox do the no-brainer thing and tender him arbitration, Rodón’s salary next year is projected at $3.7 million (according to MLBTradeRumors).

What does the future have in store for Rodón in a White Sox uniform?

It’s hard to believe, but Carlos Rodon will turn just 26 when next year begins. To put that in perspective, he’s actually three months younger than current Sox prospect Jordan Stephens. Barring any additions to the rotation via trade and/or free agency, Rodón will begin the season as either the ace or No. 2 man in next year’s rotation alongside Reynaldo Lopez. Following him would include Lucas Giolito and a mixture that could include the likes of Manny Banuelos, Dylan Covey, Stephens and Jordan Guerrero.

As for 2020 and beyond, Rodón could be part of a young mix that includes some combination of López, Michael Kopech, Dylan Cease, Dane Dunning, and Alec Hansen. Rodón becomes a free agent in 2022, so his White Sox future seems relatively murky. If the southpaw gets off to a great start next year but the White Sox aren’t going anywhere, will the White Sox look into trading him to attain additional prospect capital? Or will the Sox roll the dice in the hopes that Rodón will continue to be a key cog when their window of contention finally arrives, even knowing that he could leave via free agency in 2022?

Still another possibility is the White Sox doubling down on Rodón by extending his contract. Of course, that last option may be difficult, because Scott Boras is his agent. As for now, it’d be nice to see Rodón reach his potential while surpassing his career high of 165 innings.