Since the minute Carlos Rodon signed to a $6,582,000 bonus, the largest in the 2014 draft and White Sox draft history, it’s been clear he’s on the fast track to the big leagues. Though that promotion did not come to fruition in 2014, Rodon has already reached Triple-A, and has stuff that in short bursts was entirely overwhelming to hitters there despite lackluster command.
I think it is quite possible that Rodon has little or nothing left to learn in Triple-A. While rushing a prospect is of course dangerous, there aren't many pitching prospects that have stuff that can be compared to Chris Sale, and those that do are rarely long for the minors. The command still leaves some to be desired, but if an offseason of rest and time with Don Cooper boosts it at all, Rodon should be ready to step into the rotation by late April (if not out of Spring Training).
This is nice, as the White Sox will almost assuredly need rotation help. Even assuming perfect health, the back-end projects to be a major weakness. While no teams (save maybe the Nationals) can trot out five top-of-the-rotation arms, the White Sox are not in a position where they can have garbage starters throwing approximately 40% of the starts. Even with a top-three starters that has few rivals, a weak back-end coupled with what projects to be a league average offense and a solidified but not elite bullpen could spell doom for the White Sox’s playoff hopes in 2015.
Assuming that the offense cannot be relied on for much above league average performance (not necessarily a given, but something I’m willing to bet on until Avi Garcia and Conor Gillaspie prove they can be depended on), the rotation should be the difference between a .500 team and one that wins the AL Central.
Obviously, starting with a pitcher who is putting himself in historic company and two elite number two-type starters is a great way to build a rotation. That said, complementing a top-tier 1-3 with replacement-level 4-5 makes the picture a lot less rosy.
This is why Carlos Rodon is so important to the 2015 White Sox. If the White Sox are, as currently constructed, a .500 team, even upgrading from a replacement-level pitcher to a league average one could add two or so wins to the final product. A team with a median expectation of 83 wins inherently requires significantly less luck to win a division than one with an 81-win expectation.
Is this fair expectation for a rookie? Probably not. But Rodon is not just any rookie; he is a top-tier pitching prospect with stuff that can retire MLB batters if decently located (even though that is a major 'if' given his current profile). If he lives up to his potential in 2015, he could be the tipping point towards a White Sox playoff berth.
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