Eric Surkamp was demoted Sunday night after a month and a half of dreadful performances. His being optioned is ostensibly to clear the way for recovered bullpen regular Matt Lindstrom, but giving the boot to the relief corps' only left-hander always has its own special level of rebuke. Robin Ventura's words were not very complimentary, which is appropriate but somewhat disappointing, because I wanted to see if The King of Magnanimity could come up with a kind word about someone with an ERA that matched the name of a national convenience store chain.
"You can have a lefty down there just to have a lefty, or you go with guys who are doing it," said Robin in a room where Scott Merkin was taking notes.
Better to have major leaguers in bad matchups than non-major leaguers. Surkamp allowed a home run every eight at-bats to lefties in a White Sox uniform, with a wholly uninspiring 5/4 K/BB ratio. In a move that seemed performance-based at the time but was likely shrewder, the Sox put Scott Downs on waivers with complaints that there were looking for more than just a LOOGY out of the roster spot, then wound up with someone who couldn't even do that.
Downs has been luckier since donning a Royals uniform, but his rate stats indicate there was no recovery worth waiting for, and the Royals are now paying out the rest of his $4 million deal, which might have been the real target.
All of this is to point out that the Sox usually need hard reasons to keep them from pushing the envelope with promoting their youngsters. Once the organization finds confidence in a prospect, they tend to become more interested in bringing them to the cusp of what they cannot do than re-affirm what they can. Whether or not 19-year-old Trey Michalczewski can move from being good in Low-A to dominating is less interesting to them than seeing if he can handle High-A. The possibility of hysterical failure does not give them pause.
No lefties in the bullpen is hardly going to throw water on the idea of promoting Carlos Rodon, where there would be a clear and easy role with which to transition him into MLB action. The Sox also don't think much of just ceding a portion of the major league club's daily decision-making to chaos because it's not a win-now scenario. Two-to-three weeks of Daniel Webb getting crushed by lefties might build up an eagerness to give Robin something to play with. Finally, the Sox have a vested interest in trying to have Rodon ready to contribute to the starting rotation in 2015 for a possible playoff contender. They have a lot of holes to fill for such a team, and Rodon could fill one of them.
The question would be whether this helps Rodon toward that starter future. Reports from White Sox camp show they know how MLB-ready his left-handed fastball-slider combination is, and are emphasizing his changeup so as to access his absolute ceiling as a starter. It's much more rooted in making the best Rodon down the road than the most effective LOOGY at the end of the month, but that hardly indicates anything. At the end of the month, the open development opportunities of minor league ball will be gone, and Rodon will still be the best lefty relief candidate in the organization.
Barring a workload concern, which has likely already been plotted and accounted for, there will be too many appealing points to letting Rodon square off against major league--and honestly, a lot of Quad-A fluff as well--competition instead of having him cool off on the sidelines. Only generalized notions of caution and concern will be holding the Sox back, and they've traditionally dealt with those devils just fine.
While I would hate to use anything about the nonsense-crazy-miracle of Chris Sale's development as "precedent," but concern about Rodon not developing his changeup at the major league level probably won't do much to freeze his advancement either. Sale's role in the pen made him into a mostly fastball-slider guy, and that will likely be the way Rodon leans--and will always lean--but between the way he and Jose Quintana developed change pieces on the job, developing pitches and retiring major league hitters are not seen as mutually exclusive projects. Or in other terms, you don't worry about guys stagnating when they arrive to work personally with Don Cooper.
The "better than average" projections put on Rodon's chances of donning a White Sox uniform this season don't say much more than "he's employed by an aggressive organization." If anything, the Sox persistence in over-promoting has a demystifying effect. Rodon pitching in Chicago this year has seemed like a foregone conclusion since the phrase "MLB-ready" was uttered on draft night
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