White Sox

Carlos Rodon's latest injury spawns many questions — and few answers — about his future and future of White Sox rebuild

Carlos Rodon's latest injury spawns many questions — and few answers — about his future and future of White Sox rebuild

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.

Up close, White Sox see same big potential Cubs forecasted for Dylan Cease

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Up close, White Sox see same big potential Cubs forecasted for Dylan Cease

The Cubs made the Jose Quintana deal knowing it would have been more difficult to give up Dylan Cease if he was already performing at the Double-A level, and that the White Sox organization would be a good place to continue his education as a young pitcher.

While Eloy Jimenez keeps drawing ridiculous comparisons – the running total now includes Kris Bryant, Miguel Cabrera, Edgar Martinez and David Ortiz – Cease is more than just the other name prospect from the deal that shocked the baseball world during the All-Star break.

“We still project him as a starter,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said during this week’s GM meetings in Florida. “He certainly has the stuff where it’s easy to envision him as a potential dominant reliever. But to this point – for the foreseeable future – we deal with the starting and continue to develop him as a potential front-end arm.”

The Theo Epstein regime still hasn’t developed an impact homegrown pitcher, but that hasn’t stopped the Cubs from winning 292 games, six playoff rounds and a World Series title across the last three seasons, while still being in a strong position to win the National League Central again in 2018.

Without Quintana and his affordable contract that can run through 2020, Epstein’s front office might have been looking at the daunting possibility of trying to acquire three starting pitchers this winter.

While surveying a farm system in the middle of a natural downturn, Baseball America ranked seven pitchers on its top-10 list of prospects from the Cubs organization: Adbert Alzolay, Jose Albertos, Alex Lange, Oscar De La Cruz, Brendon Little, Thomas Hatch and Jen-Ho Tseng.

So far, only Alzolay, an Arizona Fall League Fall Star with seven starts for Double-A Tennessee on his resume, and Tseng, who made his big-league debut in September, have pitched above the A-ball level.

Cease – who went 0-8 with a 3.89 ERA for Class-A Kannapolis in his first nine starts in the White Sox system – has a 100-mph fastball and a big curveball and won’t turn 22 until next month. That stuff allowed Cease to pile up 126 strikeouts against 44 walks in 93.1 innings this year, putting him in the wave that includes Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Michael Kopech and Alec Hansen.

“Ideally, we have a lot of guys we project to be part of the future, very good, championship-caliber rotation,” Hahn said. “In an ideal world, there’s not going to be room at the inn for all of them. You only have five in that rotation and some of these guys will wind up in the bullpen. In reality, as players develop, you’re going to see some attrition.”

One spot after the White Sox grabbed Carlos Rodon with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 draft, the Cubs did Kyle Schwarber’s below-slot deal, using part of the savings to buy out Cease’s commitment to Vanderbilt University ($1.5 million bonus for a sixth-rounder) and supervise his recovery from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.

Cease was never going to be on the fast track to Wrigley Field, and now the White Sox hope he can be part of the foundation on the South Side, where it’s easier to sell a rebuild after watching the Cubs and Houston Astros become World Series champions.

“It doesn’t change really for us internally in terms of our commitment or focus or our plan or our timeline or anything along those lines,” Hahn said. “I do think, perhaps, it helps the fan base understand a little bit about what the process looks like, where other teams have been and how long the path they took to get to the ultimate goal of winning a World Series (was). In Chicago, many fans saw it firsthand with the Cubs.

“There are certainly more and more examples in the game over the last several years to help sort of show fans the path and justification for what we’re (doing).”

The White Sox just traded for a really intriguing arm

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USA TODAY

The White Sox just traded for a really intriguing arm

The White Sox continued their rebuild Thursday by trading for an intriguing young right-handed pitcher.

The South Siders acquired Thyago Vieira from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for international signing bonus pool money.

The 24-year-old Vieira is a Brazilian native and has only made one appearance in the big leagues, striking out a batter in one perfect inning of work in 2017.

While his career minor-league numbers don't jump off the page — 14-19 with a 4.58 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, 13 saves and 7.4 K/9 in 290.2 innings \— Vieira has been reportedly clocked at 104 mph with his fastball and was ranked as the Mariners' No. 8 prospect at the time of the deal. He also held righties to .194 batting average in 2017.

Here's video of Vieira throwing gas:

And this may explain why Vieira was even available:

Control has been an issue throughout his career, as he's walked 4.6 batters per nine innings in the minors. He has improved in that regard over the last few seasons, however, walking only 22 batters in 54 innings across three levels in 2017 and he doled out only one free pass in 5.1 innings in the Arizona Fall League in 2016.

What does this deal mean in the big picture for baseball? How did the Sox pull off a move like this while not having to give up a player in return? 

This may help shed light on the situation from Baseball America's Kyle Glaser:

Either way, the White Sox may have just acquired a guy who could potentially throw his name in the hat for "future closer." Or at the very least, throw his name in the hat for "best name."