Baseball Corner: Former N.C. State standout climbing ladder in Winston-Salem
The best pitcher in college baseball until he was drafted last June is now, at least at this writing, hurling for the Winston-Salem Dash. Left-hander Carlos Rodon (pronounced Ro-DON), who re-wrote the record books at North Carolina State, appears close to what he, and many others, hope – and fully expect – to be a long and rewarding big league career.
“I think big things are going to happen for this young man,” said Dash manager Tommy Thompson. “It’s just a matter of time.”
Rodon’s parents were from Cuba, but by the time he was born on December 10, 1992, the family was living in Miami. When he was 8, the Rodons moved to Holly Springs, N.C., in Wake County.
“My parents decided to move to Holly Springs because we had family here and they felt like it was a better place to grow up,” Rodon said.
Despite the move, his favorite major league team to this day was the old Florida Marlins, managed by former Hi-Toms skipper and current Elon resident Jack McKeon. Their 2003 team, when Carlos was nine, won the World Series in 2003
“I was a Marlins guy,” Rodon remembered. “They had a lot of old-school players, like Miguel Cabrera, Ed Renteria, Jeff Conine, Josh Beckett and Pudge Rodriguez. I had fun watching them, especially during the NCLS at Wrigley.”
Even as a small child in Miami, young Carlos had shown that he had baseball talent. He did not slow down after his move to North Carolina. The southpaw could hit, as well as pitch.
By the time he entered Holly Springs High School, Rodon’s appearances on the mound attracted pro scouts. To them, as well as the fans, he did not disappoint. In his three years there he went 23-2 and led the Golden Hawks to a state championship. In addition to his low ERAs and high strikeouts-per-inning ratios, Rodon could hit, as a first baseman, when he wasn’t pitching. His senior year, he batted .370 with three home runs and 25 RBIs. The Milwaukee Brewers picked him in the 16th round of the 2011 draft, and he would have gone higher if scouts hadn’t believed he was bound for college.
“I was kind of on the fence with that,” Rodon said of being drafted by the Brewers. “It never really worked out.”
Rodon indeed went to college in his home county, at N.C. State.
“That was my first offer and my first commitment, so I really wasn’t thinking about going anywhere else,” he said. “When I got to college, after that first outing, I realized I could kind of pitch a little bit.”
That’s putting it modestly. As a freshman at State, Rodon went 9-0, 1.57 with 135 strikeouts in 117 innings, and was the first freshman ever to be named ACC Pitcher of the Year. As a sophomore, the lefthander continued to dazzle, going 10-3, 2.99, and setting State’s single-season strikeout record at 184. That summer, he was the USA Baseball Player of the year. This year, as a junior, Rodon broke State’s all-time strikeout record of 386 and kept going until he reached 436 Ks. He also batted .283 as a pinch hitter and sometimes as a first baseman.
Then he went back into the draft. This time Rodon was the third player picked in the first round, going to the Chicago White Sox. After some negotiations with super agent Scott Boras, Rodon signed with the Sox on July 11 for $6.582 million.
Having not thrown competitively for more than two months, a tune-up was obviously needed. He began his professional career on July 22, when he pitched in his first game for the organization’s Rookie League club in the Arizona League. In two outings there, consisting of a total of three innings, he went 0-0, 6.00, with five strikeouts, before moving closer to home at High-A Winston-Salem.
He made his debut for the Dash, pitching and inning of relief on July 30. He gave up two runs and a hit, while striking out three.
“It’s only going to get better and better for him,” said Dash manager Tommy Thompson.
On Aug. 3, Rodon proved just that the next time out, when he pitched two shutout innings out of the bullpen. On Aug. 7, pitching in Woodbridge, Va., against the Potomac Nationals, Rodon made his first start for the Dash. He threw three scoreless innings, giving up two hits and a walk, while striking out three. He continued to lower his ERA on Aug. 13, when he went 3 2/3 innings in another start. This time he struck out seven. After four games, his Carolina League record is 0-0 with 15 strikeouts and seven hits in 9 2/3 innings. His ERA is now a miniscule 1.86.
“He’s doing a real good job,” Winston-Salem pitching coach J.R. Perdew said of Rodon. “He works hard and he’s got three real good pitches.”
Rodon’s pitches are his slider, a fastball and a change-up that appears to be improving in Winston-Salem, as he uses it more in game situations.
“Winston-Salem is a nice city,” said the North Carolinian. “It has a great ballpark with a great atmosphere. BB&T Park is one of the better venues of a High A ballpark.”
Unfortunately for Rodon, hitting is no longer part of his game plan.
“I’m in the AL now, so I’ve got to give up the bat,” he said. “I’m sticking to golf.”