Carlos Rodon entered 2014 as the slam dunk option to go number one overall. In fact, some scouts believed he could have pitched in the majors right away, which speaks to his level of polish and awe. As sports fans do when someone is placed on such a pedestal, we debated over just how bad he would have to perform to knock himself away from the top draft slot. Unfortunately, we got our answer when the Rule 4 draft rolled around. Brady Aiken and Tyler Kolek, two high school arms, were taken ahead of Rodon by the Houston Astros and Miami Marlins, letting him fall to the ecstatic Chicago White Sox.
His run suppression stayed elite, but Rodon saw a step back in strikeout rate which can indicate his stuff coming in flatter and less electric. And then there was the issue of his manager running his arm harder than Duster Baker could ever dream of. Despite a durable frame, the omnipresent talk of increasing arm injuries was enough to scare the first couple teams off Rodon, as well as some scouts.
But he’s beginning to show why he should have stayed at the top of everyone’s board.
Rodon is armed with a fastball that will reach the mid-90’s, but it becomes more valuable as it comes from the left side. He shows flashes of a plus changeup, with good overall command and enough speed difference to throw hitters off. What makes him truly special is his slider. Some scouts are trying to keep expectations lowered, giving him a 70/80 on the scouting scale. But as more and more see him in person, those numbers continue to creep up. Rodon has a legitimate generational slider, a wipeout pitch that could be fooling Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera today.
Right after signing, the Sox threw Rodon right into the fire, assigning him to High A ball to face off against other top prospects. After striking out 35.7% of hitters faced over just 9.2 innings, it was pretty clear to see the original grades were correct. So he got moved up to Triple A, where doubters again expected some struggles. And they would be disappointed again; 34% strikeout rate and 2.61 FIP, forcing himself into the conversation for top pitching prospect in the game.
Here is a video of him in High A, courtesy of the Chicago Sun-Times. You get a good look at all three pitches in a nice and condensed play.
Watch the depth and lateral movement on the slider, how Rodon uses it for off balanced contact as well as strikeouts. His fastball and changeup both need work, but continue to keep hitters making poor contact. Using minor league PITCHf/X, he’s kept a strong 50% groundball rate, evident by the type of swings he gets.
But don’t just take my word for it, ESPN prospect expert Keith Law couldn’t help but gush about the slider:
That was merely the appetizer to Rodon’s main course, one of the best sliders I’ve ever seen from an amateur, 84-88 with power and bite, at both sides of the plate, to right and left-handed hitters. It’s so obscene the FCC might not allow basic cable channels to show it before 11 p.m.
If there’s anyone still not sold on him, check out his plate appearance result distribution:
Nothing comes close to the strikeout. Rodon isn’t just getting weak contact, he isn’t even letting most hitters have a chance at it. This kind of dominance is rarely seen, yet universally admired. His future is as bright as the imagination will allow.
The White Sox will most likely keep Rodon down from the majors to start the year, for maturity and to avoid Super Two arbitration status. The young lefty will see time beginning at either Double or Triple A, mostly depending on how the rest of both rotations fill out. The difference in both leagues is minimal from a pitching standpoint, so a demotion to Double A shouldn’t be viewed as anything but a business move.
In a dynasty league that has new draftees ready for the picking, Rodon should be one of your top picks. Picking pitching early is risky, but there isn’t a pitching prospect safer than him right now. Even in redraft leagues, Rodon should see at least half a season’s worth of action and provide great value there.
Kolek and Aiken are both promising young pitchers, even with Aiken going to college after failing to make a deal with the Astros. But neither match the shine or future of Carlos Rodon. You’ll be watching his slider on highlight reels for years, and now is your chance to hop on his hype train. Be warned, it’s about to take off. Fast.