White Sox

White Sox confident with Carlos Rodon leading young rotation: 'The sky is the limit'

White Sox confident with Carlos Rodon leading young rotation: 'The sky is the limit'

The White Sox had high expectations for Carlos Rodon when they drafted him with the third overall pick in the 2014 MLB Draft.

The NC State product had the qualifications and make-up to be a No. 1 starter, but it would have been difficult to emerge as the ace in a rotation that already featured Chris Sale and Jose Quintana.

But since Rick Hahn & Co. hit the full rebuild button last offseason, Rodon’s time to become “the guy” has arrived.

In the midst of his third season in the majors, the 24-year-old southpaw went from being a mid-rotation player — behind Sale and Quintana — to being the leader of a young pitching core.

The White Sox have all the faith in the world that Rodon can be a top guy in the organization.

“I think he’s got a quality arm that I believe, if he stays within himself, can be an impactful guy as part of the next group of pitchers that are joining us,” said manager Rick Renteria.

Though Rodon's outing on Saturday against the Tampa Bay Rays was cut short after four innings due to a lengthy rain delay, he improved from his previous one against the Detroit Tigers a week ago, where he allowed five earned runs in five innings.

Rodon held the Rays to one run on two hits and recorded four strikeouts while walking three.

“He’s been working his butt off up here, really focusing in on what he needs to do to get ahead of hitters, finding that strike zone and the walk numbers are going down,” catcher Kevan Smith said. “But even if he does walk a guy he’s got to learn that that’s just part of the game. He’s got to learn to minimize that stuff.”

Prior to that game against the Tigers, he had a 2.25 ERA with 37 strikeouts in those previous five starts. Consistency is the biggest key to being a reliable ace, and he’s slowly improving in that area.

“The one word that comes to my mind is just dominant on the mound,” Smith said. “When he stays confident, when he stays with his keys, he’s almost unhittable sometimes. It’s exciting to see and he’s only going to get better. He just needs to keep rolling with that confidence, rolling with the success. The sky is the limit for that guy and it’s exciting.”

Those words sound fairly similar to what Sale said about his former teammate last month when the White Sox visited the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, saying Rodon “could be as good as anyone.”

Rodon’s season was off to a rough start after he missed the first three months of the season with bursitis in his left biceps. Even when he returned, he struggled with his command at times. But he has settled down nicely since then and he’s showing exactly why he can become the team’s future ace.

It’s hard to imagine a scenario where the White Sox re-sign Derek Holland when his contract expires at the end of the season, along with James Shields after 2018. Miguel Gonzalez is also out of the mix after he was dealt before the waiver trade deadline.

The rotation continues to thin out on paper, but the opportunities are becoming more available for the future youngsters to take control. And we're getting a glimpse of it already.

Reynaldo Lopez returned from the disabled list on Friday and had a solid outing after rebounding from a pair of early mistakes. Carson Fulmer picked up his first career victory on Saturday in relief of Rodon. Lucas Giolito will also have his chance in Sunday’s series finale.

“I like the direction the White Sox are going with,” Smith said. “I love that they’re getting them up here to start getting some experience. We can start working together regardless of this month (and) how it goes. With wins or losses, obviously nobody likes to lose but we’re here to develop.”

“It’s just fun to work with these guys knowing the potential and the futures they have here and just looking forward to the years in the future where you see that guy who’s pitching today and you have a solid chance of winning like you saw with (Sale) up there, or (Gonzalez), or Quintana. It’s definitely exciting.”

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."