It's been announced that Carlos Rodon has been promoted to the Charlotte Knights of AAA and that he will be the starting pitcher for Tuesday's game. Parallels to Chris Sale will inevitably be drawn. The reasons why are obvious, generally superficial, and often misleading - but in the end it is up to Rodon to determine how accurate they are.
The parallels between Sale and Rodon make sense. They're both hard-throwing lefties that are among the most important draft picks the White Sox have had in decades. Sale wound up sliding to the White Sox at 13, but I did see pre-draft rankings that had him at about #5 overall - some said that the Indians were trying to choose between him and Drew Pomeranz. As I'm sure you've heard, Carlos Rodon was the favorite to go 1-1 overall until his tepid '14 with NC State allowed Brady Aiken and Tyler Kolek to pass him.
I want to highlight a couple of very important differences between Sale and Rodon. Rodon's biggest asset is his insanely good slider. That sounds like Sale, right? He has a great slider too. The thing is - Sale didn't learn this iteration of his slider until post-draft. When Sale was drafted he was a fastball-change guy. We've seen that Sale has a superb change up in the past, and he has leaned on it more this year than ever before. For Rodon, the change is his third pitch, the area the organization has highlighted as what he needs the most work on. I have read that in college Rodon was relying way too hard on his slider and it wound up stymying the growth of his fastball command, velocity, and the growth of his change.
These are problems Sale never really had. Sale had strong command, a good change, and no real breaking ball when he was drafted. Teaching himself an 80 slider turned him into the monster he is today. Right now Rodon has the tools to be a dominant reliever, but unless the change comes along, he's going to have a hard time sustaining success as a starter.
Rodon could develop into an ace. At the least, it looks like he will be a talented major league pitcher. That's all great value out of a draft pick. And so far the returns are promising.
JJ Cooper of Baseball America tweeted this about him on August 13th: "We're getting the top of the draft nasty Carlos Rodon tonight. 93-96 with a wicked slider."
And frankly, Rodon was not being challenged in Rookie Ball or High A. So far he has 20 strikeouts in 12.2 innings as a pro. The fact that he is skipping AA could be a sign that his promotion path/schedule was part of a deal made upon signing him. But he has carved up the opposition so far. AAA hitters will be the most advanced he has ever faced, and I am very interested to see how they match up.
On a related topic, I am glad the White Sox' AAA facility is what it is. Charlotte is a park that shades pitcher friendly, and the International League is not riddled with launching pads like the Pacific Coast League. If the White Sox' AAA affiliate were in, say, Las Vegas, it would present a much greater obstacle to placing Rodon on the path he is currently on. Perhaps they would have to send him to AA and then just jump him to the majors bypassing AAA. Or they would risk sending him there and that his confidence would be damaged by getting knocked around even if he were pitching well. Instead he goes to the generally neutral International League and it may be easier to get a true assessment of where he's at.
It all sets Rodon up nicely to come in as a reliever during expanded rosters in September. Which sets him up to break camp in the rotation next spring. Which...would be reminiscent of Sale. There are a lot of steps along the way though and remember: Chris Sale is one of the five best starting pitchers in the majors. That is not a fair comparison for pretty much any prospect.
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