In 2010, the White Sox drafted a lanky left-hander by the name of Chris Sale with the 13th overall pick in the 2010 draft, and just two months later he was pitching in the big leagues. Today, it seems, Chicago’s 2014 first round pick Carlos Rodon could be following in his footsteps.
Chicago has promoted Rodon, the third overall pick in this year’s amateur draft, to Triple-A Charlotte, making him the first 2014 selection to reach the minors’ highest level. The 21 year old will skip Double-A, but he posted a 1.84 ERA and fanned 15 batters in 9 2/3 innings with High-A Winston-Salem. He will make his debut for the Knights Tuesday night against Gwinnet.
The similarities between the Sox new top prospect and their ace, who currently ranks second in the American League with a 2.01 ERA, abound. When drafted, Rodon and Sale were both highly touted 21 year old college left-handers projected by some, including Baseball America, to go in in the top five picks. Each relies heavily on a plus low-90s fastball with life, and each throws a slider and change-up as their chief secondary offerings, though Sale leaned far more heavily on his change-up when drafted, Rodon on his slider – a grade 70/80 on the 20-80 scouting scale, per ESPN.com’s Keith Law.
Of course, there is one abundantly obvious difference between the two of them: 60 pounds. Rodon stands three inches shorter than Sale, but he is built: a sturdy 235 pounds, 63 more than the notoriously scrawny Sale weighed on his own draft day. The two pitchers only diverge from there.
Sale’s slight build led to concerns he would not hold up for 200 innings a starter, fears only worsened by his wild, 3/4-sidearm delivery. Consequently, the Sox immediately put him in the bullpen, which allowed him to reach the majors after just seven appearances at Triple-A. He remained a set-up man until 2012, when the White Sox converted him back into a starter, with All-Star level results.
Rodon inspire no such apprehension. In fact, MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo, recounting Rodon’s assets, wrote that “ his strong frame is built for durability” and Minor League Ball’s John Sickels compared his build to that of a linebacker. “He has legs like tree trunks, which is a good sign for his endurance and durability, ” Sickels finished.
Indeed, Chicago has no plans to put Rodon in the bullpen, but that is as much a consequence of organizational circumstance, as it is a relative appraisal of the two pitchers’ talents. When Sale made his major league debut, South Side was 1.5 games up in the AL Central, and their bullpen needed all the help it could get. Today, the Sox are rebuilding and nine games out of a playoff spot. Their concerns are fixated on the long-term development of their young players, not the immediate strength of their bullpen.
Which makes it unclear whether Rodon will be called up or not. He may have been the most polished pitcher taken in last year’s draft and White Sox Manager Robin Ventura has indicated he would like to see him called up, but Ventura concedes that he does not make such decision and Rodon is not without fault.
His command is spotty at times and his change-up still needs development. The NC State standout says he’s been working on the pitch in the minors, often throwing two or three times in a row just to get practice, but that’s practice he can only get in the minors. Throw three straight league-average pitches in the majors, and he could get torn apart.
MLB.com’s Jim Callis thinks he can succeed at US Cellular right now, even without the change-up, but that he needs the third pitch to thrive.
““To some extent he probably could live off the fastball and the slider because the slider is that good that hitters can’t really sit on the fastball,” Callis told NBC Sports. “The changeup is just going to mess with guys more and I think the changeup is what makes him an elite pitcher.”
But whenever he makes his MLB debut, it could be well worth the wait. As heralded a prospect as Chris Sale was when drafted, as nasty a change-up as he threw, as masterful his command of a domineering fastball was, Rodon is considered to be better. Mayo wrote that he is “the best college left-hander since David Price.” Note that Price was drafted in 2007, Sale in 2010.