Just over a year ago I was still covering Illinois sports at The Champaign Room, and the Illini actually had a good baseball team. This meant that, for the first time ever, I was actually paying close attention to college baseball. (I used to spend some time watching the College World Series during the summer, but never too closely.)
Illinois had qualified for a regional that could have sent them to the College World Series, and it was news to follow for the site. So I began watching college baseball when I could. The Illini wouldn’t get out of their regional, thanks to Tyler Beede (who was taken with the 14th pick by San Francisco last night) and Vanderbilt ending their run.
But during that time I came across a pitcher named Carlos Rodon.
Now, when I saw Beede shutting down the Illini, I knew he was good. He was going to be a high draft pick. But when I saw Carlos Rodon? Oh man. He was making college players look like Little Leaguers out there.
The fastball in the mid-90s.
The devastating slider in the mid- to high-80s that batters didn’t have a prayer against.
I felt like I was watching a hybrid of Chris Sale and David Price. I knew at that point that this kid was going to be the top pick in the draft the next summer when he was eligible.
At the time the White Sox were in a similar position that they are now. Entering the last week of May the White Sox were 22-24 and they hadn’t yet begun to truly collapse. That would come later, and when it did, it came hard.
So I knew over the last four months of the season I was in for a lot of White Sox losses, and I had to develop with a coping mechanism. It was the same kind of coping mechanism I came up with when Derrick Rose went down again this year with another knee injury.
It was time to tank, and tank hard. And what good is a tank job if it didn’t have a hashtag to pay it off with?
And thus, #TheRoadToRodon was born on Twitter last June. The goal had become for the White Sox to lose enough games that they would get the first pick in the draft and use that pick to take Carlos Rodon out of North Carolina State.
The White Sox tried their best, but in the end they just couldn’t suck as badly as the Astros and Marlins, and were stuck with the third pick. Still, there were clutch moments. Cubs fans gloated about it then, but if it weren’t for the Cubs sweeping all four games against the White Sox last year, guess which team would have had the third pick in the draft Thursday night.
Guess which team would have drafted Carlos Rodon.
Yep, it would have been the Cubs.
But it wasn’t, and all that hard work trying to lose last season finally paid off on Thursday night. Both the Astros and Marlins passed up on Rodon for the mystery boxes that are hard-throwing high school pitchers. That left Rodon there for the Sox, and Rick Hahn and company could not pass it up, Scott Boras be damned, signing bonus be damned.
The White Sox have a new top prospect in the system, and one of the top prospects in MLB. All thanks to one season filled with 99 losses.
They’ve also got a pitcher that could be spending a full season with the team as quickly as 2016. Hell, you might see him pitching for the White Sox at some point in 2015. He’s not some high schooler that’s going to need years of development before he even reaches Triple-A. Rodon will start in the minors this year, I’m guessing in Birmingham, and he’ll spend the rest of the 2014 season there, maybe with a promotion to Charlotte depending on how he does.
Then, barring an injury or just poor performance, he’ll be in camp next spring as the team says he’s competing for a starting spot, but he won’t really be competing for a starting spot. He’ll just be getting a month and a half with Don Cooper trying to further him along, and maybe help develop that third pitch.
Then, maybe a year from now, shortly after the White Sox have finished another draft, Rodon will make his Major League debut. Or maybe the Sox will take their time and hold him out until 2016, it will all depend on the rebuild. If Rick Hahn thinks the team is ready to compete for the playoffs next season, we’ll see Rodon.
Because make no mistake about it, Carlos Rodon is a very good pitcher. He has full-blown ace potential. When you look at the Tigers the last two seasons with Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander at the top of their rotation, that’s the kind of future we could be looking at with the Sox between Rodon and Chris Sale.
Oh, and unlike Max Scherzer who becomes a free agent after 2014, Sale and Rodon will be under White Sox control for a long time.
Now, I know I’m excited about all this, but nothing is guaranteed. As we’ve seen all too often with pitchers recently, arm troubles are like a field of land mines you have to cross. You essentially take every precaution you can with each step, and just hope you don’t come down on one.
But as for what Rodon already is, and for what he can be, this was an absolute no-doubter of a pick for the White Sox. The kind of pick that could have the White Sox competing for a division title and maybe the World Series every single year.
The Road to Rodon was filled with a lot of losses, and a lot of frustration, but it led to the right destination, even with a few detours along the way. Now we wait and see what road Carlos Rodon takes the White Sox down.
Hopefully there are a lot of wins at the end of it.
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