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Carlos Rodon Flashing His Potential as Next White Sox Ace

Published by Bleacher Report on Thu, 14 Apr 2016

It's clear that the Chicago White Sox mean for Carlos Rodon to be another ace left-hander alongside Chris Sale. He was their No. 3 pick in the 2014 draft, and they called him to The Show after only nine appearances in the minors.And now, they may be on the verge of getting their wish.Rodon's second start of 2016 on Wednesday night was a good one, as he pitched six scoreless innings in a 3-0 win over the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. The 23-year-old left-hander allowed only three hits, and he used six strikeouts to overcome five walks.This is coming on the heels of a season debut that was even better. Though he took the loss against the Oakland Athletics last week, Rodon surrendered only two runs in seven innings, striking out six and walking one. Put it all together, and he's pitched 13 innings and allowed two runs on 10 hits and six walks. He's struck out 12.OK, so, there's an obvious reality check to be made. Beating this year's A's and Twins isn't quite like the 1927 New York Yankees or the 2003 Boston Red Sox. Early on, they're bothat the bottom of Major League Baseball's offensive food chain.What draws an ace-seeking eye to Rodon, however, isn't so much what he's done in two starts this season. What's much more interesting is how these two starts fit into a stretch that dates back to last August. Here's CSN Chicago stats guru Christopher Kamka to explain:Those are some dominant numbers, and they get at the truth of the matter: Rodon isn't an ace yet, but he's now a lot closer to earning that distinction than he used to be.Flash back to this time last year, and the hype around Rodon was palpable. Baseball America rated him as baseball's No. 15 prospect despite the fact he was only a year removed from being drafted. And after he struck out 21 batters in 17.2 innings in spring training, it seemed like the White Sox were struggling to find excusesnot to call him up.They finally did on April 21. And in Rodon's first 18 appearances (including 15 starts), there was one part of his game that lived up to the hype.The southpaw came equipped with a slider that ESPN.com's Keith Law wrote had once been considered "thebest amateur slider scouts had seen in 15 or 20 years," and it mostly looked the part. Per Brooks Baseball, it held hitters to a .160 average and got whiffs roughly 20 percent of the time.To illustrate the awesomeness of said slider, here it is making the game's best hitter look like a doofus:Apart from his slider, though, Rodon didn't have much.His fastball had good velocity at 93-94 miles per hour, but his inability to locate it played a part in him walking over 5.3 batters per nine innings. He also got hit hard, serving up a line-drive percentage of 27.1 and an overall hard-hit rate of 30.0 percent.But then everything changed in Rodon's final eight outings. In addition to a 1.81 ERA, he put up a respectable 3.5 walks-per-nine rate while also striking out eight batters per nine innings. Over half his batted balls were on the ground, to boot, and he also dropped his hard-hit rate to 25.6 percent.To hear him say it, all this was the result of Rodonfeeling better about himself.Everything was there. I was confident," he told Dan Hayes of CSN Chicago. "Just bringing that confidence into this year and having it carry over and giving this team a chance to win.But Rodon made tangible changes, too. A new between-starts routine suggested by White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper helped him find his control. And asEno Sarris at FanGraphs uncovered, Rodon shifting his position on the mound gave him a slightly different release angle. That helped improve his control. Granted, Rodon isn't out of the woods in that department yet. And in all likelihood, he's never going to be Tom Glavine. But going from walking over five batters every nine innings to more like three or four at least signals that his control has gotten an upgrade from "All Over the Place."And in more recent days, improved control isn't the only thing Rodon has going for him.After trading off between the two in 2015, he's now shifted his focus from his four-seam fastball to his two-seam fastball in 2016. The pitch accounted for 54 of his 99 pitches against the A's, and a whopping 70 of his 107 pitches against the Twins.This should allow Rodon's awakening as a ground-ball pitcher to continue, as his two-seamer is naturally much better at inducing grounders than his four-seamer.Meanwhile, Rodon still has his slider for when he needs strikeouts. As a few frames in this GIF can vouch, the Twins found that out the hard way on Wednesday:All Rodon needs now is a reliable changeup, but it doesn't sound like anyone should be holding their breath. Rodon told Sarris his changeup is a "work in progress," and White Sox catcher Alex Avila doesn't seem to think games are the right place for him to work on it."There are going to be times that will call for that pitch, and he'll throw it," he told Colleen Kane of the Chicago Tribune after Wednesday's win."But at the same time we can't get away from what got him here."For any notions that Rodon might one day occupy the same level of baseball's Mt. Acemore as Sale, this and his mediocre control are tough deal-breakers for him to overcome. It's sad but true.Buthe's not to be underestimated as is. The Pittsburgh Pirates' Francisco Liriano is an excellent left-hander whose abilities to miss bats and jam hitters allows him to overcome subpar control. That's the mold Rodon is beginning to fit into, and he'll be one of the game's nastiest lefties as long as he stays there.The White Sox were arguably too quick to act on their high hopes for Rodon last season. But a year later, he's showing they weren't wrong to have high hopes in the first place.Stats courtesy ofBaseball-Reference.comandFanGraphsunless otherwise noted/linked.
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