Rodon could match Strasburg, Price

rodon 300x230 Rodon could match Strasburg, PriceYou know you are a big deal when you are college pitcher and you are being talked about in the live broadcast of the World Series. Carlos Rodon, the early front-runner to go first overall in next year’s amateur draft, got a shout out from the Fox booth in Game 1 of the Fall Classic. And while there is no such thing as a slam dunk in any Draft, especially under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, Rodon is just about as close as it gets.

Rodon’s trek to this point, however, hasn’t exactly been smooth, and never was it clear he’d ever become the potential ace he is now.

During his stint at Holly Springs High School in North Carolina, Rodon was hampered by a back injury that led to a lot of inconsistencies. He had trouble repeating his mechanics and his fastball velocity was all over the place. Despite this, he put up very good numbers in high school and won numerous accolades. Many teams however were still a little nervous about him, and he fell to the Brewers who decided to take a gamble on him in round 16. Rodon decided to honor his commitment to North Carolina State, where he joined top recruits in catcher Brett Austin and star shortstop Trea Turner to form a very lucrative class.

Rodon put on about 25 pounds of good weight before his freshman season and dominated from the moment he set foot in Raleigh. He immediately joined the Wolfpack’s starting rotation and in his freshman campaign he was undefeated in nine decisions and posted an ERA of 1.57. Arm stiffness plagued Rodon during the middle of his sophomore season, but once he got healthy he went on an absolute tear and led the Wolfpack to Omaha. His ERA increased to a mark of 2.99, but his peripheral stats were even better than they were the previous season. He paced the nation with 184 strikeouts and walked just 45 batters.

Rodon has a long stride, but he repeats his delivery well and generates a lot of his power with his strong lower half, operating in the 91-95 mph range and touching 98 when he is healthy. This velocity is especially impressive — and rare — for a southpaw. His calling-card is a wicked slider that has tremendous horizontal break that causes both lefties and righties to buckle at the knees, freeze and often swing and miss. He has another version, too, which is like a cutter, that he can throw for strikes. His changeup is well behind his other offerings, but he has reportedly made it the focus of his offseason, and if he can add a quality change to his arsenal he could be just about unhittable next season.

Barring a serious injury, it is hard to see any scenario in which Rodon is not the best player in country by year’s end. However, that is still no guarantee that he will go No. 1 overall. There is a very good chance that he will test the cap restrictions put in place by the CBA. The Houston Astros again own the top pick and may prefer to select a less expensive player, perhaps East Carolina right-hander Jeff Hoffman or one of the prep arms, in order to spread their allotted pool money to later rounds. After all, just two years ago they employed this strategy, known as panning, when they passed on Stanford ace Mark Appel, who ranked higher on their draft board, in favor of the less-expensive Carlos Correa. With the pool money they saved, they secured elite talents Lance McCullers Jr. and Rio Ruiz.

Perhaps more importantly however, are the justifiable concerns that Houston may have with Rodon’s heavy workload in college. Recently, the Astros has been very conservative in the way they develop pitchers, exemplified by the piggy-back system they have used with top prospects like right-handers Mike Foltynewicz and McCullers. Behind Rodon, N.C. State’s rotation lacked depth, and they milked just about every inning out of him they could. In one particular outing Rodon pitched 10 frames in an epic 18-inning battle against rival UNC in the ACC playoffs. That said, Rodon made it pretty hard for head coach Elliot Avent to take him out of the game, as he struck out 14 batters and yielded just one hit. Regardless, this may jeopardize his health and possibly even future earnings as a professional.

In fact, over the course of Rodon’s first four postseason starts he threw a total of 36 1/3 innings and averaged 121 pitches per start. To put this in perspective, Adam Wainwright, the well-established ace of the St. Louis Cardinals, averaged 99.5 pitches through his first four starts this postseason. The most controversial misuse of Rodon, however, came in an elimination game during the College World Series, where Rodon took the ball just three days after hurling a complete game. The plan backfired, as Rodon was exhausted by the fifth inning and NC State fell to North Carolina 7-0.

In the last few drafts, there really hasn’t been that player who was the easy consensus player atop most draft boards. The last player with such a tag was Bryce Harper in 2010, but to find a pitcher who achieved this status you would have to go back another year to Stephen Strasburg in 2009 and then David Price in 2007. Rodon appears to be that kind of player, and he’s carried that connotation since his freshman year.

Rodon isn’t a carbon copy of Strasburg or Price, or any other contemporary pitcher for that matter. His competitive streak and approach to pitching is more reminiscent of pitchers from past generations. It is almost impossible, though, to miss the similarities between the three in terms of their development and upside at the same stage of their careers.

To a certain extent, all of three lacked the consistency and maturity to make that jump, and they were all able to transform their bodies, which for Rodon and Price meant putting on weight, and for Strasburg it entailed a remake of his physicality. They each saw substantial spikes in their velocity in college and evolved into the top collegiate arm in the country during their sophomore and junior seasons. With three seemingly equal resumes, it is hard to determine exactly who the best was, or will be when all is said and done. But if Rodon can master his changeup, it will hard to make an argument against him.

Written by Rob Balboni

Rob is native of Marion, Ma. and got his start writing for The Log and Minor League Radar. He joined the Prospect Insider team in 2013 to cover the MLB as well the Draft. Besides writing about baseball, his passions include surfing, music, and watching other sports.

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6 comments on “Rodon could match Strasburg, Price

  1. rotoenquire says:

    I like Fisher out of Virginia his stock is on the rise and would be on the fast track to the pros.

  2. rotoenquire says:

    The M’s have with JackZ tended to draft college guys over HS players in the early part of round 1.. Later in the 1st round they are more apt to take a HS player. That being said when the M’s pick guys like Trea Turner SS and Rodon will be gone. When the M’s pick S. Newcomb SP Hartford, D. Fisher OF Virginia, T. Deebe SP Vanderbilt, B. Finnegan SP TCU, M. Pentacost Kennassaw St., B. Aiken CC HS(GA), B. Davidson OF TCR HS(NC).

  3. JerryEK says:

    Thats not the way it works. Teams don’t get another teams pick. One team loses their highest pick, and the other team gets a first rounder. The two picks are entirely separate.

    Right now there are 31 picks in the first round (1 extra for failure to sign 2013 draft pick). Each team that signs a free agent player offered a QO from another team loses their highest unprotected pick. That pick is essentially erased from the draft order. Each team those loses one of those players gets a pick between the end of the first and the beginning of the supplemental first (picks from the competitive balance lottery). The order of those extra picks is determined by 2013 record of the team who receives the pick. Thus, the first round could be longer than 31 picks. In fact, it almost definitely will be, as teams with protected picks will be more likely to punt one to sign a free agent.

    Thus, it doesn’t matter if the team who signs Morales has a protected pick or not. Since the M’s have the sixth worst record in baseball, they will be near the front of the order for those comp picks. For instance, the Indians had a protected pick last year, but still signed Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn. The Yankees and Braves both got first rounder comp picks for losing those players (32 and 31, respectively). Last year, the comp picks were between 27-33. This year, there will probably be a few more comp picks. But it definitely should be somewhere between 20-35. Things should clear up a bit once the deadline passes for players to decline the QO.

    Thus, the M’s have a pretty strong motivation to not resign Morales if he declines the QO. Because the M’s were so terrible last year, they will get one of the earliest comp picks.

    Also, if the M’s sign another free agent with draft comp attached to him, they will lose that pick.

    The new system is more complicated, but its a bit more favorable for bad teams. Ideally, they’ll just get rid of all this comp pick BS and let teams trade whatever picks they want. But that is how the system works right now.

  4. rjfrik says:

    We really need one of the this trio to fall to us at #6:

    3. Alex Jackson, C | Rancho Bernardo HS (San Diego)
    He’s more likely to end up in right field than behind the plate, but Jackson has elite bat speed and above-average power potential to all fields.

    4. Jacob Gatewood, SS | Clovis (Calif.) HS
    Boasting enormous raw power, Gatewood has one of the highest upsides among prep hitters this year, but has to show he’s got the hit tool to make the power play and will likely end up at third base in pro ball.

    5. Braxton Davidson, OF | T.C. Roberson HS (Asheville, N.C.)
    Davidson may have the most offensive upside of any hitter in the class, thanks to a plus hit tool and the ability to drive the ball to all parts of the ballpark.

    This is going to take at least one pitcher moving up the board. After these guys it’s nothing but pitchers for almost 10 picks, as far as best on the board. But even if one falls, knowing Jack and Mac, they will probably pass on a high upside High School player and draft a college pitcher (See passing on Francisco Lindor for Danny Hultzen).

  5. nighthawk180 says:

    The pick for losing Morales is not going to be between 20-27, it will be between rounds 1 and 2 or after the second depending on if the signing team has a protected pick. I also believe that the exact spot we pick is dependent on the other qualified offer FA and where they sign but Im not sure if that is right or how that works.

    As for the draft class I also am excited that the mariners have additional picks and its a deep class. Looking forward to the scouting reports and the seasons both high school and college to start so we can drool further.

  6. JerryEK says:

    I’m interested to learn more about the guys who might be on the board for the M’s early picks. From reading scouting reports on players and the specific strengths of this draft, it seems like a pretty deep group. Especially high school hitters in the first half of the 1st round and prep arms later on. You agree?

    The M’s will have the 6th overall pick, plus a pick between 20-27 if Morales signs elsewhere, our pick in the top of the 2nd round and a comp pick in the supplemental 2nd. I’d love to see them add another pick via trade if possible. With this being a strong and deep class, it could be a great draft for the M’s.

    For the top pick, you’d expect Carlos Rodon and Jeff Hoffman to be off the board, and probably Trea Turner as well (seems good college SS prospects are rare these days). After that, there are a ton of high upside prep hitters. From what I’ve read, Alex Jackson is among my favorites, along with Jacob Gatewood and Braxton Davidson. Jason has mentioned T’Quan Forbes a few times as well. I’d be stoked if Jackson fell to them, but Davidson or Gatewood would be nice consolation prizes.

    Obviously you always want to pick the best player available, and perhaps that will end up being a pitcher or college guy. But it seems like the one thing that has been missing from the M’s system the last few years is a super high upside bat. This is looking like a good draft for that.

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