The 2015 MLB season will be forever be known as the “Year of the Rookie”.
It was remarkable to see such an influx of rookie talent take the league by storm and showed that the future of baseball is here. Players like Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, and Carlos Correa led the rookie class, but there were a few rookies that were overshadowed yet showed just as much promise as the rookies who dominated the limelight.
This brings me to one of, if not the, biggest overlooked rookie of all last season, Carlos Rodon. If you were to line up just about all the candidates for Rookie of the Year last season, you would be hard pressed to find anyone not a White Sox fan identify who Rodon was. While he may fly under the radar right now, I have a feeling we will all become very acclaimed with him next season.
Rodon was the third overall pick of the White Sox in 2014 out of NC State, so there has certainly been some big expectations tied to him throughout the organization. He was one of the most polished pitchers coming out of the 2014 draft and that has been even further evident by his expedited rise through the minor leagues.
He has exactly 58.2 IP pitched in the minors compared to the 139 innings he posted last season at the MLB level, so clearly Rodon is ready for the show and has been for a while. Over his 23 starts last season he posted a, 9 W/3.75 ERA/1.44 WHIP/139 K, line which is excellent for a 22 yr. old kid one year removed from college.
In an era of baseball where pitching has become so dominant and practically overpowering, we may see a line like this and not fully grasp just how good it is based off the video game like season lines we get used to. The fact that Rodon went from A ball, then straight to AAA for a pit stop, and now in the majors leads me to believe that the talent upside with Rodon is enormous and his time is now rather than later.
Arsenal wise, Rodon’s stuff could challenge nearly anyone in baseball especially once he fully masters his changeup. While his changeup showed to be improving, Rodon’s calling card is his wipeout slider and fastball that sits in the mid-90s. I do not have to tell anyone how effective a lefty with a wipeout slider and velocity can be, all you have to do is look at his counterpart Chris Sale.
I will also concede that Rodon still has room for growth and development, there were rough stretches last season which is to be expected. He had two 7 ER outings, two 6 BB games and an ugly 8 ER performance last season, so he is not immune to running into some speed bumps along the way. Now some may see those occurrences as red flags or be worried about a sophomore slump of sorts, but what if I told you that all that happened before August and before his last eight starts of the season? This is where fantasy owners should invest their optimism as Rodon showed to end the season that he adjusted his pitching approach and gave us a glimpse of what may to come.
From August 5 till the end of the season, Rodon went on a stretch of starts where he looked like the best pitcher on the staff, even with Chris Sale and Jose Quintana on board. Over those last 58 IP, Rodon only gave up more than 3 ER once, averaged 7 IP per start, cut his walks by nearly one per game, and averaged 7 SO/9. These are the splits we expect to see out of the elite pitchers in the game, not a rookie who had been up and down most of the season, so what changed?
His turnaround and can be traced to his pitch usage charts. Prior to August last season, Rodon was pretty consistent throwing his fastball and a sinker over 25% of the time, with his slider still proving to be his most prevalent pitch used at over 30%. The key here that slowly over the course of the season, his changeup became more and more involved rising from nearly 4%, in the beginning of the year, to over 10% by seasons end.
By using the changeup more, he began to phase out his sinker, which proved to be a good decision as batters had an over .400 AVG against it. Clearly pitchers always want to have as many weapons as possible, but it is clear that the persistent inclusion of his changeup led him directly to positive results. This does not even take into account the K ability he showed with just his fastball and slider, so the changeup just further helps builds his strikeout ability.
With confidence in his changeup, he pounded the strike zone more and introduced an off speed element that he had sorely needed. Now you have pitcher with a great slider, solid fastball and a ever developing changeup which for me screams the tools necessary for a breakout in 2016.
Now I will not label him a star breakout candidate like Dallas Keuchel, only because he needs to keep honing his command of all his pitches. But he is one of the select players at the draft where I will make it a point to pick him because the upside is too hard to ignore. The results were tangible that adding the changeup more in his approach was the key for him taking the next step and with an offseason where he can keep developing his changeup and improve his command, he should be overlooked no longer. Make him a high value target in 2016.
2016 Early Projection: 15 W/3.50 ERA/170 K/1.35 WHIP