While White Sox fans clamored for the club to make one more big splash on the starting pitching front last winter, the re-signing of Carlos Rodon to a one-year, $3 million contract was an underwhelming development, to say the least. Rodon was the third overall pick in the 2014 MLB Draft and has experienced his share of ups and downs since then.
Flashes of potential have shown up in spurts, and he was even the Opening Day starter on a rebuilding 2019 team. But Rodon’s career has been dogged by inconsistency and injuries, culminating in Tommy John surgery in April of 2019. The phrase “talented, if healthy” is appropriate for Rodon, with the if carrying a lot of weight. But with a renewed focus and a fresh coaching staff, is it possible Rodon’s potential can start to shine through more consistently?
In hindsight, re-signing Rodon should have seemed like a foregone conclusion given that he had already begun working with new pitching coach Ethan Katz in November, prior to being non-tendered in December. This work specifically included the use of a core velocity belt, forcing Rodon to use his lower body more on his delivery and put less stress on his shoulder and elbow. The goal is to both improve velocity and reduce injury risk.
In Spring Training, the results looked very positive. Through four games, Rodon threw 13.2 innings and allowed just two earned runs while recording 16 strikeouts and a 0.73 WHIP. Rodon’s fastball even touched 97 MPH, a tick up from where it had been even prior to the surgery. And the devastating slider that has been Rodon’s signature pitch appeared to be all the way back from what we have been able to see. This performance, along with Reynaldo Lopez’s continued struggles, ended whatever competition there was for the fifth starter spot.
These are just Spring Training statistics, so they need to be taken with a heavy grain of salt. But there are certainly positive signs here. Rodon knows he is on his last legs of his Major League career, so now is “put up or shut up” time.
Rodon has even admitted that his preparation in terms of diet, workout regimen, and stretching/prehabilitation routine has not been up to par in the past. Now with his back against the wall, he has talked about taking his preparation much more seriously, and this is certainly noticeable on the mound where he does look slimmer.
Rodon joined the White Sox Talk Podcast last week and discussed these exact circumstances. He specifically noted that he was frustrated by being non-tendered, but also understood the decision once he was able to fully digest it. He also mentioned that he felt like this is the best control of his fastball that he has ever had, a testament to the work he has put in with Katz.
Rodon’s first start of the season will come on the road tonight in Seattle against a Mariners lineup that leaves much to be desired. Getting off to a good start in a friendly matchup will be imperative to Rodon’s success this season. It will also be very telling for White Sox management. Given his contract of only $3 million and a good amount of pitching depth behind him, Rodon’s leash will not be very long.
The White Sox feel very confident in the top three pitchers in the rotation, and much has been made this offseason about Dylan Cease, and rightfully so. But if Rodon can provide a boost from the fifth starter spot and finally find a level of consistency that has escaped him thus far, then the White Sox rotation could be unmatched with any rotation in the league.