So now the other guy is up, too, and Chicago's other team has its own blue-chip prospect to brag about. And where any instant Chicago postseason ambitions are concerned, you can expect power lefty Carlos Rodon to play a major part in fulfilling them on the South Side with the Chicago White Sox. News leaked that they’ll be making the move on Monday.
While the anticipation for Rodon’s arrival hasn’t been anything like that for Kris Bryant with the Cubs, Rondon should also have a major impact on his team's 2015 season. The Sox took him with the third overall pick last June in what might forever be known as “the Brady Aiken draft,” but Rodon might have the stuff to earn it a relabeling in his own honor. Lefties with reliable mid-90s heat don’t grow on trees, and in his preseason reassessment of his top 50 prospects, Keith Law compared Rodon’s slider to Clayton Kershaw's curve and Felix Hernandez's changeup as a premiere wipeout pitch, while ranking him the 12th best prospect.
The interesting wrinkle is that Rodon is initially slated for a relief role. That seems like a sensible balance between three different, equally important factors that manager Robin Ventura, GM Rick Hahn and the rest of the White Sox brass have to consider, even as they might wrestle with the temptation to throw Rodon into the rotation. But in this case, delayed gratification has its benefits.
First, as a reliever capable of throwing multiple innings, Rodon will do the White Sox some good in their bullpen. Small sample size caveats aside, it’s a crew that’s allowing 4.1 runs to score per nine innings, not counting four of 10 inherited runners to score. The other lefties in the pen have their uses and limitations: Dan Jennings throws hard as well, with a fastball that sits around 94 mph, but he has rarely been used to protect lead during his career, while Zach Duke was signed to be a situational late-game asset. With Jake Petricka likely due back from the DL at some point this week, it remains to be seen who gets kept to do what, but Rodon and Petricka should both make it immediately better.
Second, there’s also a need for a strong middle relief asset on this team for the time being because of concerns over how deep into games the current No. 4 and 5 starters, John Danks and Hector Noesi, can reliably pitch. Danks has lost more than a couple of ticks from his fastball since the shoulder surgery that cost him most of 2012 and part of 2013. He’s gone from being a solid mid-rotation workhorse to questionable back-end filler. His rates for strikeouts, swinging strikes and ground-ball outs are down, he’s giving up more line drives and more homers. Unless he can correct any or all of that, he’s a starter you keep on a short leash.
Noesi might be best described as a science project, a journeyman righty whose 94-mph fastball and broad repertoire keeps getting him looks with teams. However, if pitching coach Don Cooper can’t help him generate better results soon, the White Sox can’t indefinitely indulge their curiosity and also contend. In the meantime, Noesi is also somebody you should be worried about a third time through a lineup, and somebody who can expect a quick hook.
Finally, looking at that duo and seeing which of them gets turned around buys time for Rodon to get broken in before getting rotation consideration. Initially working out the pen might keep the full-season workload of the 22-year-old Rodon low enough to both keep him in the rotation picture down the stretch and -- fortune and circumstance permitting -- available to pitch into October. Worries over his college workload at NC State are part of why he “fell” to the third overall pick. Relying on Cooper’s insight and Herm Schneider’s training staff, the organization’s track record for effectively managing workload risks has been reliably remarkable, with Chris Sale’s career so far representing their latest success story. There may be no better leadership team to create a plan that keeps Rodon in the stretch mix for the Sox.
So, while this call-up didn’t generate the same sort of breathless anticipation that new kid playing third for Chicago’s other team, Rodon can help make the season every bit as memorable on the South Side.
Christina Kahrl writes about MLB for ESPN. You can follow her on Twitter.