Pipeline Perspectives: Rodon's repertoire unmatched
White Sox prospect's fastball/slider combo complemented by developing changeup
There's a good amount of subjectivity regarding baseball prospects. With the evaluation of talent being in the eye of the beholder, finding consensus is often difficult. Even Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo of MLBPipeline.com don't always see eye to eye. They discuss their viewpoints regularly in a feature called Pipeline Perspectives. Submit a topic for them to debate.
As if having the best left-hander (and perhaps the best player) in the Major Leagues weren't enough, the Dodgers also have the consensus top southpaw pitching prospect in the Minors. While Clayton Kershaw has distanced himself from his big league brethren, Julio Urias has several lefty phenoms close behind him.
Andrew Heaney (Marlins), Carlos Rodon (White Sox), Henry Owens (Red Sox) and Daniel Norris (Blue Jays) are Urias' closest challengers. Recent draftees Sean Manaea (Royals), Kyle Freeland (Rockies), Sean Newcomb (Angels), Rob Kaminsky (Cardinals), Brandon Finnegan (Royals) and Marco Gonzales (Cardinals) have the potential to rocket up the MLBPipeline.com Top 100 Prospects list.
That gives us a lot of options for this week's Pipeline Perspective, where we'll identify the best left-handed prospect behind Urias. Jonathan likes Heaney, who made his big league debut this summer and just got called back up by Miami. I prefer Rodon for the simplest of reasons -- he has better pure stuff than any of them, including Urias.
Rodon's biggest weapon is a slider that legitimately qualifies as a wipeout offering. It was the best pitch in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft, and it will be one of the best breaking balls in the Majors when he arrives in Chicago sometime next year. Rodon's slider sits in the mid-80s, tops 90 mph on occasion and explodes on hitters with two-plane break.
Rodon's slider overmatched college hitters so easily that North Carolina State's coaches called for it an excessive amount this spring, which cost him some fastball velocity and command. The White Sox had him work more off his heater in pro ball, and he operated at 92-94 mph while showing the ability to reach back for as much as 97 mph when needed.
Though his fastball and slider alone would make him a front-line starter, Rodon also has the potential for at least a solid changeup. He'll need to use his changeup more to get more consistent with it, as he sometimes tips it off by slowing his arm speed. But Rodon has some feel for his offspeed pitch, and it features promising deception.
Along with his stuff, Rodon has a strong 6-foot-3, 234-pound frame built for durability. He doesn't have the most athletic delivery, but he repeats it well enough to have reasonable command. Rodon has the upside of a true ace, and it's hard to envision him being anything less than a No. 3 starter.
Scouts considered Rodon the best college left-hander since David Price was the No. 1 overall pick out of Vanderbilt in 2007. Rodon emerged as the favorite to go first in 2014 as early as his freshman year at N.C. State, and as a sophomore, he led the Wolfpack to their first College World Series berth since 1968 while topping NCAA Division I with a school-record 184 strikeouts. He wasn't quite as spectacular this spring, though he still posted a 2.01 ERA and 117 whiffs in 98 2/3 innings.
Rodon's inability to live up to all the lofty expectations for his junior season enabled the White Sox to grab him with the No. 3 overall choice, a scenario that scouting director Doug Laumann admits he didn't conceive was possible coming into the year. Chicago signed Rodon for $6,582,000, a franchise record and the most money ever given to a left-hander in Draft history.
In less than two months, Rodon rushed through the White Sox system. He made two appearances in the Rookie-level Arizona League and four at Class A Advanced Winston-Salem before finishing strong in three starts at Triple-A Charlotte. Rodon compiled a 2.92 ERA and 38 strikeouts in 24 2/3 innings, and he had Chicago contemplating bringing him to the big leagues in September.
Chris Sale went from the first round of the Draft to U.S. Cellular Field in 2010, a year in which the White Sox contended well into September. They're out of the playoff hunt this year, so they decided it would be more prudent to let Rodon rest. General manager Rick Hahn said Rodon wouldn't pitch in the instructional league, the Arizona Fall League or winter ball.
It's conceivable that Rodon could make Chicago's big league rotation out of Spring Training next year. Outside of Sale, no White Sox big leaguer can match Rodon's stuff. Neither can any lefty anywhere in the Minors.