Carlos Rodon’s homecoming was cancelled this week, but for an awfully good reason.
The Holly Springs, N.C. native was scheduled to start for Triple-A Charlotte on Tuesday against Durham, about a half-hour drive through the Raleigh area from his hometown. Instead, the No. 3 pick in the 2014 MLB Draft will be seated in the White Sox bullpen at U.S. Cellular Field on Monday.
Rodon’s high school coach, Rod Whitesell, has kept in touch with the left-hander ever since he went off to North Carolina State (which is also in the Raleigh-Durham area) in 2011. Whitesell said Rodon will visit him at Holly Springs High School once in a while to catch up, bring him mementos of his career or — as he did last fall — throw to some of his prep alma mater’s catchers.
And, according to Whitesell, the 22-year-old mega-prospect is “absolutely” the same person he was back in high school.
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“He’s a confident, awesome baseball player but I think when he steps off the lines in between he is just a well-rounded, awesome young man,” Whitesell said in a phone interview Monday. “He’s got that switch. Between the lines, people may think he’s a butthole or he’s too competitive or they may not like him, but when he steps off that field he is an unbelievable, well-spoken nice young man. You could tell he was raised right.
“He’s the same kid he was when he played for us. Still has that infectious love for the game but also love for his friends and his teammates and his coaches.”
As a freshman playing on varsity, he threw a pair of one-hitters. He was “literally lights out” his junior year, Whitesell said. And Holly Springs won state with Rodon starting and hitting cleanup in 2011, his senior year.
After winning the state title, Rodon’s teammates started asking him for autographs. But Rodon, despite his rising national profile, never carried himself like a big-man-on-campus superstar.
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“He was a great teammate then,” Whitesell said. “He got obviously a lot of attention and a lot of accolades and all that, but he would always deflect to others. He worked hard. He never saw himself as like, I’m better or I’m anything — I think he teammates, if you would ask them today, would look at him as just another teammate.”
What’s made Rodon one of the top pitching prospects in baseball is the competitiveness he pairs with his mid-to-upper 90’s fastball, strong slider and good changeup. Whitesell saw it in high school, and still sees it today whether Rodon’s on the mound or playing him in ping pong during a visit to Arizona for spring training earlier this year.
Whitesell said that confidence is what pushed Rodon to a dominant junior year, which is when he began to emerge in draft conversations (though signability questions dropped him to the 16th round, and he wound up attending N.C. State). And it’s just another reason why Rodon has rocketed through the minor leagues and should make his major league debut sometime this week on the South Side.
“He always was competitive and had that nature,” Whitesell said. “His junior year, he said here it is, let’s see what happens. It kind of reminds me of what you see now. He’s willing to throw any pitch at any time to anyone and say here it is, I’m better than you — maybe that’s not what he’s saying, but that’s his mentality on the mound.”