The White Sox had high expectations for Carlos Rodon when they drafted him with the third overall pick in the 2014 MLB Draft.
The NC State product had the qualifications and make-up to be a No. 1 starter, but it would have been difficult to emerge as the ace in a rotation that already featured Chris Sale and Jose Quintana.
But since Rick Hahn & Co. hit the full rebuild button last offseason, Rodon’s time to become “the guy” has arrived.
In the midst of his third season in the majors, the 24-year-old southpaw went from being a mid-rotation player — behind Sale and Quintana — to being the leader of a young pitching core.
The White Sox have all the faith in the world that Rodon can be a top guy in the organization.
“I think he’s got a quality arm that I believe, if he stays within himself, can be an impactful guy as part of the next group of pitchers that are joining us,” said manager Rick Renteria.
Though Rodon's outing on Saturday against the Tampa Bay Rays was cut short after four innings due to a lengthy rain delay, he improved from his previous one against the Detroit Tigers a week ago, where he allowed five earned runs in five innings.
Rodon held the Rays to one run on two hits and recorded four strikeouts while walking three.
“He’s been working his butt off up here, really focusing in on what he needs to do to get ahead of hitters, finding that strike zone and the walk numbers are going down,” catcher Kevan Smith said. “But even if he does walk a guy he’s got to learn that that’s just part of the game. He’s got to learn to minimize that stuff.”
Prior to that game against the Tigers, he had a 2.25 ERA with 37 strikeouts in those previous five starts. Consistency is the biggest key to being a reliable ace, and he’s slowly improving in that area.
“The one word that comes to my mind is just dominant on the mound,” Smith said. “When he stays confident, when he stays with his keys, he’s almost unhittable sometimes. It’s exciting to see and he’s only going to get better. He just needs to keep rolling with that confidence, rolling with the success. The sky is the limit for that guy and it’s exciting.”
Those words sound fairly similar to what Sale said about his former teammate last month when the White Sox visited the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, saying Rodon “could be as good as anyone.”
Rodon’s season was off to a rough start after he missed the first three months of the season with bursitis in his left biceps. Even when he returned, he struggled with his command at times. But he has settled down nicely since then and he’s showing exactly why he can become the team’s future ace.
It’s hard to imagine a scenario where the White Sox re-sign Derek Holland when his contract expires at the end of the season, along with James Shields after 2018. Miguel Gonzalez is also out of the mix after he was dealt before the waiver trade deadline.
The rotation continues to thin out on paper, but the opportunities are becoming more available for the future youngsters to take control. And we're getting a glimpse of it already.
Reynaldo Lopez returned from the disabled list on Friday and had a solid outing after rebounding from a pair of early mistakes. Carson Fulmer picked up his first career victory on Saturday in relief of Rodon. Lucas Giolito will also have his chance in Sunday’s series finale.
“I like the direction the White Sox are going with,” Smith said. “I love that they’re getting them up here to start getting some experience. We can start working together regardless of this month (and) how it goes. With wins or losses, obviously nobody likes to lose but we’re here to develop.”
“It’s just fun to work with these guys knowing the potential and the futures they have here and just looking forward to the years in the future where you see that guy who’s pitching today and you have a solid chance of winning like you saw with (Sale) up there, or (Gonzalez), or Quintana. It’s definitely exciting.”