If you’ve been listening, you’ll know the baseball industry isn’t as helplessly infatuated with North Carolina State lefty, Carlos Rodon, as they were leading up to this season, when he was the clear favorite to go #1 overall in this year’s draft. The way Rodon has pitched this spring has left much to be desired and has opened the door for others to enter the conversation at 1-1. On Friday I was able to observe his struggles first hand as the Wolfpack clashed with the University of Maryland in College Park .
First sight of Rodon alerts one of his physical maturity. At 6-foot-3, 234 pounds, Rodon possesses thick, bulky thighs and an especially ample posterior and offers no physical projection. If Sir Mix-a-lot were the Astros scouting director, Rodon would be a lock for 1-1 regardless of performance. Rodon makes use of his strong lower-half in the giant stride he takes toward home before planting his front leg hard into the ground at an unusually acute angle. Rodon doesn’t finish up and over his front leg and then come down over it in the way many pitchers do, but rather plants the front leg and then remains very upright and swings his hips around to generate torque to aid velocity. The awkward way in which Rodon lands on his front leg isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just different, and makes me curious to know what kind beating his right knee might be taking. The delivery from the waist up is a little bit stiff, some of which is likely due to the chilly conditions in which Rodon pitched on Friday night. While there is some effort, I generally think the arm works fine.
The stuff was mostly impressive, albeit inconsistent. Rodon’s fastball ranged from 90-94 mph, settling into the low end of that range as his start went on, only touching 94 a few times. He struggled mightily to command it, walking four hitters and plunking two in just 4.2 innings of work. He threw 116 pitches, 68 of them for strikes. It’s a plus fastball based on velocity and sink, but the concerns surround Rodon’s control over it and the drop in velocity he’s experienced since the end of last season when he was touching the upper 90s are very real. It’s still just March and Rodon was pitching with similar velocity at this time last year before amping it up in April and May, but scouts and executives have begun to tap their feet and check their watches as they wait for last year’s heat to arrive.
One thing keeping Rodon’s head above water is his slider; an upper 80s, late-breaking phantom that is probably the best secondary pitch in the entire draft. It’s a plus-plus offering as far as I’m concerned, and only began to flatten out late in Rodon’s start, something I’ll give him a pass for since he was asked to throw so many pitches in just four innings of work. It has more vertical depth than I expected, and frankly more than I’ve ever seen on a pitch thrown that hard. Slidey touched 89 mph and sat 86-88 for his entire outing, even as the fastball velo started to drop.
The changeup was less impressive, sitting in the low 80s with some fade and decent arm speed. It became easier to identify out of Rodon’s hand as his start progressed before it became virtually unusable in the fifth inning when he really started to cast it. It’s a fringe-average offering right now but could play up if Rodon’s fastball velocity returns.
The slider is mouth-watering, but the overall package that was on display last night left me wanting. With an open mind that Rodon could explode later this spring, as he did last year, and recapture his standing as the draft’s consensus top player, he isn’t there for me right now. I saw Jeff Hoffman a few weeks ago and, based purely on one look at each of them, I’d rather have Hoffman. There’s more present velo with Hoffman, the delivery is more athletic, the arm works better, and Hoffman still offers some projection. Again, it’s early.
Rodon’s nemesis on Friday night – other than his control and command – was Maryland right-hander Jake Stinnett. Stinnett dominated in front of a large contingent of scouts and executives, allowing five baserunners and striking out fourteen in eight innings of work. Stinnett’s fastball sat 91-94 with arm-side whip and is an above average offering. He commanded it to both sides of the plate, spotting it on the outside corner – or just off of it – and running it inside on righties for wings and misses. He complimented it with a vertically oriented slider in the 80-84 mph range. He displayed dictatorial control of the breaking ball as well, consistently throwing it just off the plate away from righties and backdooring and back-footing it to lefties. It’s a solid average pitch but played up thanks to Stinnett’s impressive control of it. If he missed with the slider, it was in the dirt. Later in his start he worked in a few changeups, including a dandy in the 7th inning, but it wasn’t used enough for me to grade it with confidence. I cna’t say enough about the control/command, which was plus-plus, as Stinnett threw 81 of 114 pitches for strikes.
At 6-foot-4, 202 pounds, Stinnett has some projection left on paper, but his frame doesn’t lend itself to much more weight, in my opinion. I think, physically, he is what he is. I’d like to see Stinnett use the changeup more in pro ball but don’t fault him for relegating it to tertiary status on Friday as he carved up NC State hitters with just two offerings and saw no need to mix in any more than a pinch of offspeed. He’ll certainly need the change if he’s going to pitch through pro lineups multiple times, however. There might be a good #4 starter here if that changeup is viable. If, for whatever reason, he’s unable to utilize a change more effectively in the pros and has to pitch out of a bullpen because of it, I think he could still be special. There might be more velocity in the arm if Stinnett is able to air it out in shorter stints and a mid-90s heater and solid average slider with plus control and command of them is a late-inning arm.
On my way down to College Park, I stopped in Bel Air, Maryland to catch Bryant University’s game vs the University of Delaware at Harford Community College’s facility. The standout from that game was Bryant centerfielder Carl Anderson (L/L). The physically impressive 6-foot-1, 185 pounder hit a no-doubt bomb to right center, was short to the ball all day, made a diving catch in center field, and ran 4.18 from the left side on an infield grounder. There are tools here with which to work in pro ball. The junior will make for an interesting late-round flier if someone can convince him to sign.