GLENDALE, Ariz. -- One of the best stretches of Carlos Rodon’s entire baseball career provided him with a confidence boost and also raised the bar for expectations.
Headed into his second season, the White Sox have Rodon pegged as their No. 3 starter. They hope he takes another step toward becoming an ace.
But the White Sox aren’t the only ones optimistic about Rodon, who excelled over his final eight starts and finished his rookie campaign at 9-6 with a 3.75 ERA in 26 games (23 starts). Projections from Steamer have Rodon valued at 2.5 Wins Above Replacement in 2016 while ZiPS projects 3.2 WAR from the North Carolina State product.
“His second half and how he finished has given us hope that he’s going to be another cornerstone like (Jose) Quintana and Chris Sale,” White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper said.
Through his first 18 appearances of 2015, Rodon showed plenty of flashes of the talent that led him to be the third overall pick of the 2014 draft. He averaged more than a strikeout per inning, featured a devastating slider and made progress with his changeup.
But Rodon also experienced the downside of on-the-job training. Whereas many of his peers took their lumps in the minors, Rodon’s results were magnified at the big league level. He struggled with command early in the season and had a 5.00 ERA after an Aug. 5 start against Tampa Bay.
Then, as Cooper said, something just clicked.
Working around the strike zone more often, including earlier in the count, and focused on fastball command, Rodon got on a roll. Over his final eight starts, he went 5-2 with a 1.81 ERA in 54 2/3 innings. Part of Rodon’s success stemmed from the routine he developed in between starts. Another key was a reduced walk rate, which was lowered from 5.32 base on balls per nine to 3.46.
Rodon, who went 10-3 in 2013 for NC State as a sophomore en route to a College World Series, said he’s pleased with how he ended his rookie season.
“It was one of the best pitching runs I had ever,” Rodon said. “It was nice. Just hope I can keep it going this year and go from there.”
“Everything was there. I was confident. Just bringing that confidence into this year and having it carry over and giving this team a chance to win.”
Steamer predicts Rodon will finish the upcoming season 10-10 with a 4.04 ERA and 9.38 strikeouts per nine. ZiPS has him pegged for a 3.81 ERA and 9.61 K’s per nine.
Given the reduction in his walks, the White Sox may internally hope for an even better showing. They’re already impressed with the progress he made throughout last season.
“The improvement he made from the first day I saw him in spring training until the end of the year is a real credit to him,” Cooper said. “We kind of stumbled on to a couple of things that really seemed to click. And now we’ve got to see if we can hit the ground running and continue that process.”
- White Sox manager Robin Ventura said Saturday he intends to play the hot hand between his two catchers, Alex Avila and Dioner Navarro. Both catchers signed one-year deals via free agency this offseason.
“We’ll start out whatever guy we feel is the best to put out there that day, that’s how we’re going to go,” Ventura said. “They’re both guys that have enough experience and playing time to be able to do that. … They’re interchangeable. They can move back on forth.”
- Nearly every position player already has arrived at White Sox camp. Though the team doesn’t host its first full-squad workout until Tuesday, only Adam LaRoche, Avisail Garcia, Melky Cabrera and Brett Lawrie have yet to check in at Camelback Ranch.