Carlos Rodon

Carlos Rodon makes an appearance on the South Side as his rehab moves toward next phase

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AP

Carlos Rodon makes an appearance on the South Side as his rehab moves toward next phase

Though he’s seemingly become the forgotten man, Carlos Rodon still has much a chance as anyone to be a part — a big part — of the White Sox rotation of the future.

Rebuild-loving White Sox fans are always hungry for the next batch of box scores from the minor leagues, following guys like Michael Kopech, Alec Hansen, Dylan Cease and Dane Dunning from one start to the next like they’re big leaguers and not pitching, in two of those four cases, for a Class A team.

That hunger coupled with Rodon’s status as a player in recovery instead as one on a major league mound makes it easy to forget that the 2014 first-round pick, who’s just 25 years old, should very much be included with all those minor league guys (not to mention Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez) as potential aces of the future for the rebuilding White Sox.

But he’s got to get back to pitching first.

Rodon will soon do that, he informed reporters while making an appearance at Guaranteed Rate Field. Still rehabbing from shoulder surgery that brought his 2017 campaign to an early end, Rodon was back in Chicago to meet with the doctor, and he'll also throw for pitching coach Don Cooper. Rodon provided the update that he’ll soon be pitching in games, starting with extended spring training contests before making a minor league rehab assignment and eventually making his way back to the South Side.

Recently moved to the 60-day disabled list, he’ll be eligible to come off at the end of May, which is around the time the White Sox have discussed him potentially being ready to return.

“Hopefully by the end of this 60-day deal, maybe,” Rodon said when asked when he’ll be back. “You never know what could happen, setbacks and whatnot. Those things can lengthen out the process, but if everything goes well, hopefully by the end of (May). I don’t know. I can’t really put a date on it. I’m hoping, but we’ll see.”

“Timetable’s the same as it’s always been. We expect him to be back sometime roughly in late May, early June,” general manager Rick Hahn said Friday. “I think the earliest he can come back is May 28 because we put him on the 60-day, so it’ll be after that date.”

White Sox fans haven’t seen much of Rodon in the last two seasons of South Side baseball. Last year, his start was delayed until late June because of a spring arm injury. Then came the shoulder surgery last September. Almost a month into this season, Rodon’s combined innings total in 2017 and 2018 stands at just 69.1 in 12 starts last summer.

But he showed some flashes of brilliance in those outings that brought to mind why the White Sox spent the No. 3 pick in the draft on him. He had three games of at least 10 strikeouts, including punching out 11 Cubs hitters in just four innings last July.

This time, he’ll miss roughly the same amount of time in the season before making his debut, give or take a few weeks. But at least he’s got experience to lean on when it comes to dealing with his absence.

“It is tough, not starting the season off with the boys. I miss being here,” Rodon said. “It’s definitely frustrating. No one likes to be injured, for the team and for the fans. You don’t want to be in Arizona when your boys are out here pitching and hitting balls and winning games. Sometimes it’s part of the process, as dumb as that sounds. It really is true. It’s a different kind of feeling this year knowing more so what’s going on.

“I kind of know more of a plan now compared to last year. I kind of was clueless. You never think surgery is a good thing, but in this case it’s not bad at all, considering plan-wise and time-wise, we’re a little more set in stone.”

With so much talent in minor league system, not outrageous to think White Sox could someday have their own Zito-Hudson-Mulder combo

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AP/USA TODAY

With so much talent in minor league system, not outrageous to think White Sox could someday have their own Zito-Hudson-Mulder combo

The White Sox are in Oakland this week, a place that's seen its fair share of rebuilding efforts.

Thanks to Moneyball and some excellent drafting, the A's, at one time, were the template for creating a homegrown contender. Before Theo Epstein and Jeff Luhnow, there was Billy Beane. And the A's found particular success when it came to pitching. Barry Zito, Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder formed one of the elite 1-2-3 starting-rotation punches of recent memory. And if the White Sox rebuild pans out the way they hope it will, there could be a second coming of the homegrown Zito-Hudson-Mulder triumvirate on the South Side.

That trio dominated for years in Oakland, taking the A's to four straight postseasons from 2000 to 2003. Zito was still around for another trip in 2006. While the A's famously failed to do much in those postseason appearances, eliminated from the first four in the first round and then swept out of the ALCS in 2006, there's no doubting that they had one of the best rotations in baseball during that stretch. Hudson was a two-time All Star and finished in the top 10 in Cy Young voting three times during his six seasons with the A's. Zito was a three-time All Star in eight seasons in Oakland and won the Cy Young Award in 2002. Mulder was a two-time All Star in his five seasons there and was the Cy Young runner-up in 2001.

Do the White Sox have three pitchers who could reach that kind of success?

The White Sox haven't drafted all their high-end pitching talent, like the A's did with Hudson (sixth round, 1997), Mulder (first round, 1998) and Zito (first round, 1999). But they do have four pitchers ranked in the top 100 prospects in baseball: Michael Kopech (10), Alec Hansen (54), Dylan Cease (61) and Dane Dunning (92). That's without mentioning current members of the big league rotation Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Carson Fulmer or the currently injured Carlos Rodon. The White Sox spent high first-round draft picks on Fulmer and Rodon, while Hansen was a second-round pick. They acquired all the others in those rebuild-launching trades with the Boston Red Sox, Washington Nationals and Cubs.

That's a heck of a lot of talent. So much talent that it produces quite the potential future conundrum for Rick Hahn, Rick Renteria and Don Cooper, who will have to figure out a way to fit all of that talent into one major league starting staff. That would be one of those problems, of course, that qualifies as a good one to have.

Now, as exciting as these young players might be — and as impressive as what they're doing in the minor leagues is — it's unrealistic to think that all of them will reach the status of big league ace. As Hahn will tell you, baseball has a cruel way of reminding that not all prospects pan out. But the White Sox are starting from a very strong position, with such a high volume of top-end talent. It betters the odds of developing a front-end-of-the-rotation pitcher, and a few of these guys are already looking capable of reaching that level.

Kopech is the obvious candidate to be that kind of pitcher. He's got blow-em-away stuff with his triple-digit fastball and is currently one of the top pitching prospects in the game. He showed signs of mortality during spring training, leaving the Cactus League with an ERA above 11.00, but he's looked good in his first two regular-season starts at Triple-A Charlotte, with an 0.90 ERA in 10 innings. When he'll be up to the major league level remains a mystery, though it figures to be at some point this season.

Hansen has equally dominant stuff and actually struck out more hitters in 2017, punching out 191 batters at three different levels of the minor leagues. He's yet to start his regular season while getting back to full health. But he's got as high of hopes as any one of these guys, and it wouldn't be at all surprising to see the 6-foot-7 righty team with two others to make an elite 1-2-3.

Who would the third guy be? Well it could be any of them, really. Cease and Dunning are off to great starts in their minor league seasons. Giolito and Lopez impressed at the end of last season, with Lopez carrying that over into the beginning of the 2018 season. Rodon still carries high hopes even as he works through recovery from shoulder surgery. And with so many options and unknowns remaining in the development of all these players, it's really possible it could be any three-arm combination — including ones without Kopech or Hansen.

In the end, the question might not be whether the White Sox can match the Zito-Hudson-Mulder three-headed monster. It might be whether or not they can outdo it.

Carlos Rodon remains a focal point of White Sox rebuild during rehab

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USA TODAY

Carlos Rodon remains a focal point of White Sox rebuild during rehab

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The White Sox are generally discussed as a team looking toward the future, the relative far future of 2019 and 2020 and 2021.

But there’s a more imminent future that should be of interest to those playing the waiting game, and that involves pitcher Carlos Rodon.

It’s easy sometimes to forget about the injured Rodon while penciling out rotations of the future that feature highly touted prospects like Michael Kopech, Alec Hansen and Dylan Cease and current big leaguers like Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez. But the guy the White Sox selected with the third pick in the 2014 draft is still just 25 years old, meaning he’d fit nicely into the team’s planned window of contention — if he can stay on the field.

After suffering two significant arm injuries a season ago, the mission for Rodon now is to get back in action. He’s rehabbing from shoulder surgery, and while the White Sox never laid out a specific timetable for his return — though the vague notion of “June” seems to be on everyone’s mind — he’s reportedly making his way back in promising fashion.

“He’s progressing very nicely,” general manager Rick Hahn said of Rodon on Opening Day. “We have a schedule mapped out that we started on the first day of spring training. He’s hit every milestone on that schedule. In fact, I think he actually moved it up a few days based on how he was feeling, so, so far, so good.

“There’s this moment you see with guys who are coming off of injury where it’s almost like a weight is lifted off of them, where they have convinced themselves that they’re no longer hurt, they’re over the issue and they’re just building up back to baseball. … You see it with Carlos now, not only in the way he’s throwing the ball free and easy but in talking to him, there’s a different demeanor to him.

“He’s on target building himself back and, knock on wood, will continue to progress nicely.”

What Rodon is able to do once he finally does return to a big league mound will be of great interest to the rebuild-lovers on the South Side. Though he didn’t make his first 2017 appearance until June 28, he showed some real flashes of brilliance when he did pitch, including a pair of double-digit strikeout performances against the Cubs and Oakland Athletics in July. During a small but impressive five-start stretch in July and August, he allowed just nine runs in 36 innings for a 2.25 ERA.

The talent that made him the No. 3 pick in the draft is obviously still there. But Rodon now has plenty of competition for the status of the White Sox ace of the future, making his health a more pressing issue. He’ll have to prove not only that he can still pitch well enough to be one of the future five but also that he can stay healthy while doing it.

It all starts with returning this season. Hahn said that the next steps for Rodon include throwing batting practice, pitching in extended spring training games and then rehabbing in the minor leagues. Can that process move along quicker than expected? Maybe quick enough to get him back before June arrives?

“Not out of the question, but let’s wait until he’s on a rehab assignment before we really start to zero in on timing,” Hahn said. “As we said at the start of spring, I suspect it will be closer to the eight-month mark, which would be June 1, then obviously the six-month mark, which would be today.

“He’s progressing nicely, and once he’s on a rehab assignment, we’ll have a better sense of the exact return.”

Right now, “when” is the most important question surrounding Rodon, as in when he’ll be back with the big league club. But soon that question will become “if,” as in if he’s able to prove what he needs to prove to stay at the forefront of this ongoing discussion about the team’s bright future.