Carlos Rodon’s 2017 season will end the same way it began: with the White Sox potential ace of the future on the disabled list.
While there are minor league arms currently staking their own claim to that title — Michael Kopech is the top-ranked pitching prospect in baseball — Rodon entered the picture before the rebuild was announced. So when the franchise’s direction was made known this past offseason — and most definitely after Chris Sale and Jose Quintana were traded away from the South Side — it made sense that the 2014 draft’s third overall selection would be the piece of which the rotation of the future would be centered around.
Then came the 2017 season, with Rodon missing the first three months of the campaign with left biceps bursitis and then going on the disabled list again Friday, shut down for the season after an MRI revealed left shoulder inflammation.
“For the future of the team and my future, I think it’s the best thing, the best way to go about it,” Rodon said after Friday’s loss to the visiting San Francisco Giants. “I mean it’s tough news to take, but there’s not much I can do about it.”
While the mystery of Rodon getting scratched shortly before Thursday’s scheduled start was finally solved right after Friday’s game began, there’s still plenty of unknowns out there about this latest injury. Will it be similar to the issue that knocked him out for months earlier this year? Or is this a more minor thing that only results in a season-ending DL stint because the White Sox are already well into the final month of a last-place season? No one seems to know yet, and Rodon is scheduled to undergo further evaluation next week.
But certainly the sobriety with which Rodon discussed his injury — and granted it wasn’t too remarkable a departure from his usual quiet demeanor — at least had to bring to mind the idea that this could potentially be another roadblock in his development. Rodon hit the big leagues less than a year after he was drafted, and while that’s worked for some pitchers in the past (Sale), it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Rodon.
Injuries have proven the biggest obstacles of late, and it’s a logical jump to question whether Rodon needs to make some changes to avoid this kind of thing in the future.
“I’m sure that the staff, the medical staff and the doctors and everybody can kind of put their heads together and see what it is that needs to be done to see if we can clear up whatever it is that’s causing the inflammation,” manager Rick Renteria said. “Right now, I’m not a doctor so I couldn’t tell you what’s causing it. But we do know that something is wrong. Right now it’s inflammation that he has, so they’ll deal with it and again there’s no rush for us to get him back at this point.”
The harsh question has to be asked: If the injuries keep piling up, is Rodon’s status as a part of the future rotation in jeopardy? Any answer besides yes would be a difficult one to swallow, considering how high a draft pick was used to bring him to the South Side. But at the same time, that fantasy starting staff is getting crowded with names. Aside from Kopech, there’s Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez already at the big league level and Dane Dunning and Alec Hansen racking up big strikeout numbers in the minors. That’s five names right there.
But while Rodon's 2017 campaign was far from where he or the White Sox wanted it to be — because he’ll end up missing almost four months of a six-month season — there was plenty to salvage from when he was on the mound. After a bit of a bumpy start, Rodon settled in nicely and posted a 3.00 ERA over his final seven outings of the year. Take out a five-run clunker against the Detroit Tigers on Aug. 26, and Rodon’s ERA was a dazzling 2.25 in those other six starts.
“Had some good starts, had a good run. Would’ve been nice to keep going,” Rodon said. “But these things happen and just got to get better.”
“Obviously for us we would have liked to have had him out there on the mound gaining more experience and continuing to hone his craft. But there are only certain things we can do. There’s only certain things that we can control.” Renteria said. “At this point, it is what it is. I think as he starts to continue to recover and get back on track, hopefully for the coming season, we’ll just have to make up whatever we lost and try to gain ground at that point and take advantage of the skill set that he has.”
So there’s still a bit of a waiting game to see exactly what this injury is — and exactly how impactful it will be to Rodon’s future and the future of the White Sox rotation. It’s a long time until spring training, meaning this issue could be well forgotten by the time camp begins in Arizona.
But if indeed Rodon’s latest problem has a similar effect to the one that knocked him out for months this season, then the White Sox rotation could look considerably different next season. Giolito, Lopez and the under-contract James Shields figure to be penciled in as three of the five starters. But what about Kopech? Did his dazzling minor league campaign earn him an opportunity to compete for a spot on the starting staff? And how different might that opportunity be if Rodon is still battling this issue come February and March?
The White Sox seem to have a lot more questions than answers right this second, and perhaps more will be known by Monday, when Rodon is slated for his further evaluation. It’s in times like this, rightly or wrongly, that speculation runs rampant. And with a team so prone to speculation about its future already — almost exclusively in a positive manner, considering the minor league assets Rick Hahn has stockpiled — it’s near impossible not to try to play this out in your head.
Unfortunately for Rodon, the White Sox, observers and fans, there seem to be plenty of blanks that still need to be filled in.