It wasn’t quite a month ago that Carlos Rodon struck out nine Kansas City Royals in four Spring Training innings sending the prospect community into a frenzy. On Tuesday, there is a good chance he makes his regular season debut in a big league uniform out of the Chicago White Sox bullpen.
There was some talk that Rodon was getting the Kris Bryant treatment and just being sent to Triple-A for a couple weeks to buy the White Sox an extra year of player control, and given he was called up just three days after that cutoff passed there may be some legitimacy to that. However, manager Robin Ventura did come out and say Rodon needs to have three consistent pitches in the White Sox rotation, and he is sticking to that for now, putting Rodon in the bullpen.
When looking at some scouting reports, you may think he already has three consistent pitches with his fastball, which touches 97 MPH with some regularity, one of the better sliders in baseball, and a cutter. However, the slider and cutter are essentially the same pitch, with Rodon telling me this spring that they are the same grip and arm action, just with varied speeds and levels of break causing the “different” pitch types.
When the slider is in the 87-89 MPH range, it has massive depth and run to it, and flirts with being an 80 grade pitch. When he throws it into the 90s, I saw it as high as 94, it has less depth but certainly has late movement that will get plenty of broken bats against right handed hitters.
Rodon does have a change, the third pitch Ventura wants to see more consistency out of, but it is far behind his fastball and slider. In the four innings I saw him throw against the Royals, he threw just four changeups. They worked between 82-84 MPH with some good late dip, but even on the spring day in which he demonstrated his best command, he had trouble hitting his spots with the pitch.
With his fastball, which worked best in the 93-94 MPH range, there is some arm side run, but it can run too far inside at times. The lefty may has three hit batsmen in his 22 innings in Triple-A, including two in his 10 innings this year, and that may be something that gets him into trouble early on.
In all, Rodon will be a very good, if not elite, starting pitcher in the big leagues, but getting his first taste from the bullpen is probably the best move. His fastball will likely work closer to the 97 MPH out of the pen than the 94 that is more regularly seen as he gets deeper into outings. The back of the White Sox rotation is not exactly impenetrable with Hector Noesi and John Danks, so it is only a matter of time before Rodon gets the promotion from bullpen arm to starter.