Carlos Rodon

The White Sox’s plan that can make Carlos Rodon an elite pitcher

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Carlos Rodon’s plus fastball and elite slider are probably enough to get him by in the majors in the estimation of one talent evaluator.

But a month into his professional career the White Sox and their top prospect have made the improvement of Rodon’s changeup one a priority.

Rodon — the third overall pick in June’s amateur draft — believes command of his changeup will make him a better major leaguer, whenever the White Sox decide to make that happen.

The left-handed pitcher out of North Carolina State is already viewed as a great talent: MLB.com rates him the No. 22 prospect in baseball while ESPN’s Keith Law ranked him No. 10 last month. Baseball America’s JJ Cooper unofficially has Rodon rated between 40-45.

But if Rodon can hone his changeup, he’s capable of reaching the next level, MLB.com’s Jim Callis said.

“To some extent he probably could live off the fastball and the slider because the slider is that good that hitters can’t really sit on the fastball,” Callis said. “The changeup is just going to mess with guys more and I think the changeup is what makes him an elite pitcher.”

[RELATED: Hahn says Rodon could be in White Sox 2015 rotation]

When he helped lead N.C. State to the College World Series in 2013 with 184 strikeouts in 132 1/3 innings as a sophomore, Rodon set some nearly impossible standards for himself.

He only added to those expectations, ones Rodon said in June he “didn’t live up to,” with a dominant performance for Team USA against Cuba. Callis didn’t attend the exhibition but said evaluators there for the 11-strikeout game believed Rodon could have won in the majors that night, in part because he showed an outstanding changeup.

Headed into 2014, Rodon was viewed as the consensus No. 1 player in the draft and one American League scout said Rodon was already a “top 10 pitcher on the planet.”

But the combo of a 6-7 record and a disappointing season for the Wolfpack affected Rodon’s draft value, even though he lowered his ERA from 2.99 in 2013 to 2.01.

Callis thinks NC State asked Rodon to rely on his slider too much early in the season and that led to less command and reduced velocity of a fastball that MLB.com ranked 65 on the 20-80 scouting scale. MLB.com grades his slider a 70 while his changeup, which Rodon said he rarely used his junior season, is a 50.

Since he signed a franchise-record $6.582 million bonus on July 11, much of the work Rodon has done surrounds his changeup as well as fastball command. Whether playing catch, in bullpen sessions or in games, Rodon estimates he has thrown double or triple the amount of changeups he did in college.

“I’ve had to make a couple of adjustments to pro ball as far as pitching and pitch sequences,” Rodon said. “I understand now that anyone can hit a fastball and I have to use those offspeed pitches to compliment the fastball. I’ve been relying heavily on the changeup recently and it’s working out pretty good for me.

“It’s just getting a feel for the pitch and constantly throwing it.”

[RELATED: Chris Sale’s advice to Rodon? Keep it simple]

Rodon — who struck out three over three scoreless innings on Thursday and will start again Wednesday for Single-A Winston-Salem — threw five or six changeups in his 39 pitches and said it’s the best he has felt with it so far.

Prior to him joining the White Sox, minor-league pitching coordinator Curt Hasler hadn’t seen much of Rodon’s changeup.

So far Hasler, who has been on hand for three of Rodon’s five appearances, including Thursday, has been impressed.

“I saw the fastball, the good life on the fastball, the plus-plus slider,” Hasler said. “I didn’t see a lot of changeups so I didn’t really know what to expect. But from Day One when I saw his changeup, I told (Single-A pitching coach J.R. Perdew), ‘Wow, that’s a good changeup.’ It’s almost like maybe he didn’t need it before.

“He threw it five or six times the other day in the game. We saw a handful of really good ones that day. It’s making a lot of progress. He knows exactly what he’s going to have to do with all those pitches.”

Callis said it’s all part of the package the White Sox received when Rodon slipped to them at No. 3. Having thrown several high-profile games over the last three years, Rodon has valuable experience on big stages to pair with a good pitching mentality.

“He knows there’s more than just rearing back and trying to throw the ball by guys,” Callis said. “He’s also got the confidence without being cocky although he probably straddled cocky a little bit in a good way. He’s got everything you want. He’s got the stuff. He understands what he needs to do. He’s really highly competitive.”

Even though he has the confidence he is close to, if not, ready for the majors, Rodon isn’t worried. He tries to focus on the things he can control, even when manager Robin Ventura said there’s a better than average chance Rodon could pitch in the big leagues this season. Rodon said he would leave that decision for “the bosses up there” and only wants to further develop his game, especially the changeup.

“I’m throwing it while I’m playing catch, throw it in the pen for sides and the game, as it comes along,” Rodon said. “My last outing, I had a pretty good feel for it and it’s only getting better.

“I’m starting to get that command back and that feel for everything. You get a little breakthrough every time you pitch and I hit one this last outing. I’m getting there.”

Settling the Scores: Memorial Day edition

ARLINGTON, VA - MAY 21:  American flags are shown after being placed by members of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment at the graves of U.S. soldiers buried at Arlington National Cemetery, in preparation for Memorial Day May 21, 2015 in Arlington, Virginia. "Flags-In" has become an annual ceremony since the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) was designated to be an Army's official ceremonial unit in 1948  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
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Memorial Day commemorates the men and women who died in military service. At some point in the past couple of decades, however, it has become an all-purpose flag-waving, patriotism-declaring, civilians-in-camouflage holiday. It’s understandable why this is the case. We, as a country, haven’t always done mourning well. I think it’s part of our national cultural DNA that we don’t and it’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does make days like this difficult.

I feel like the flag-waving and troop-supporting stuff is some sort of subconscious reaction to death. It’s our way of instantly trying to justify those deaths or to explain how they were not in vain, much the same way we might tell someone upon the death of a loved one that they’re in a better place or that they had a full life. Feeling the pain of loss is hard. We want to soften it in any way we can and make our pain serve a larger, better purpose. And so we get today, when Major League Baseball puts its players in camouflage caps and in jerseys with camouflage logos. They’ll sell them too, with proceeds going to good and noble veterans charities. The intent is noble and the ultimate effect of it all is beneficial. But it’s also a little beside the point. Maybe not beside the point as much as mattress sales or big celebratory barbecues which have come to characterize Memorial Day for so many, but still not exactly the purpose of the holiday.

I don’t condemn it. As I wrote last year, the men and women who actually fought and died in wars were hoping that they were, ultimately, making a better and happier world for those they left behind. And they no doubt hoped, among everything else they hoped, that others didn’t have to face what they were facing. They wanted our lives to be happy and our country to be safe and part of a happy and safe country involves 300 million people doing whatever it is they damn please, even if it’s just having barbecues and wearing camo at the ballpark.

I won’t say have a happy Memorial Day because that seems odd. Have any kind of Memorial Day you want, really, even if it includes barbecuing, drinking beer and wearing a cam ballcap. But as you do, please make sure you take some time to think about those who died in military service. And remember that they didn’t get to have as many days like the one you’re having as they were meant to have. And make at least some effort to offset your happy, patriotic or silly pursuits with some mourning and reflectiveness. It’s OK for that to stand on its own.

The scores:

Red Sox 5, Blue Jays 3
Orioles 6, Indians 4
Yankees 2, Rays 1
Nationals 10, Cardinals 2
Brewers 5, Reds 4
Royals 5, White Sox 4
Cubs 7, Phillies 2
Rangers 6, Pirates 2
Astros 8, Angels 6
Athletics 4, Tigers 2
Twins 5, Mariners 4
Giants 8, Rockies 3
Diamondbacks 6, Padres 3
Marlins 7, Braves 3
Dodgers 4, Mets 2

 

Should Dave Roberts have taken Clayton Kershaw out of Sunday’s game?

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 29:  Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers delivers a pitch in the first inning against the New York Mets at Citi Field on May 29, 2016 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Dodgers manager Dave Roberts will likely be second-guessed heavily during tomorrow’s news cycle. Starter Clayton Kershaw had pitched a terrific ballgame, as is his tendency, but with 114 pitches to his name, Roberts decided to pull him from the game in the eighth inning with two outs and a runner on first base.

Roberts opted not for closer Kenley Jansen, who hasn’t pitched since Wednesday, but for another lefty in Adam Liberatore. He was playing the numbers, with the left-handed-hitting Curtis Granderson coming up. Liberatore, much to Roberts’ chagrin, served up what turned out to be a game-tying triple to Granderson, hitting a rocket to right-center just out of the reach of a leaping Yasiel Puig.

Jansen has, for six years, been one of the game’s elite relievers. Kershaw, though at a high pitch count, doesn’t seem to suffer from the times through the order penalty like most pitchers. Kershaw’s opponents’ OPS facing him for the first time was .525 coming into Sunday. Twice, .597. Three times, .587. Four times, .526 (but this suffers from survivorship bias so it’s not exactly representative).

Furthermore, Kershaw held lefties to a .546 OPS over his career. Liberatore, in 99 plate appearances against lefty hitters, gave up a .575 OPS. Jansen? .560. It seems that, faced with three decisions, Roberts arguably made the worst one. Playing conservative with Kershaw at 114 pitches is defensible, but only if Jansen comes in. If Roberts wanted the platoon advantage, Kershaw should have stayed in.

Luckily for the Dodgers, Mets closer Jeurys Familia didn’t have his best stuff. He loaded the bases with one out in the top of the ninth on a single and two walks, then gave up a two-run single to Adrian Gonzalez, giving the Dodgers a 4-2 lead. Jansen came on in the bottom half of the ninth and retired the side in order to pick up his 15th save of the season.

Royals sweep White Sox over the weekend on three late rallies

KANSAS CITY, MO - MAY 28:  Brett Eibner #12 of the Kansas City Royals celebrates his game-winning RBI single with teammates in the ninth inning against the Chicago White Sox at Kauffman Stadium on May 28, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. The Royals won 8-7. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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The Royals had themselves a pretty good weekend. The quickly fading White Sox, not so much.

On Friday, the Royals fell behind 5-1 after the top of the sixth. They would score once in the bottom of the sixth, four times in the seventh, and once in the eighth to steal a 7-5 win facing pitchers Miguel Gonzalez Dan Jennings, Matt Albers, Zach Duke and Nate Jones.

On Saturday, the Royals entered the bottom of the ninth down 7-1. They scored seven runs on closer David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle to win 8-7.

On Sunday, the Royals were down 4-2 after the top of the eighth. They plated three runs in the bottom half of the eighth against Jones and Albers, going on to win 5-4.

Coming into the weekend, the Royals were 24-22 in third place. The White Sox were 27-21, a half-game up in first place. Now the Royals are in first place by a game and a half, and the White Sox are in third place, two games out of first.

Here’s video of the Royals’ comeback on Saturday, since it was so unlikely:

Report: Ryan Braun is “the hot name out there”

ATLANTA, GA - MAY 24: Ryan Braun #8 of the Milwaukee Brewers waits to hit during the first inning against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on May 24, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
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In Saturday’s column for The Boston Globe, Nick Cafardo notes that, according to a scout, Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun is “the hot name out there.” Braun has been bothered by neck and back issues this year, missing on Sunday his eighth start out of the Brewers’ last 14 games, but he has still put up a quality .351/.424/.583 triple-slash line in 170 plate appearances this year.

More importantly for an acquiring team, Braun is in the first year of a five-year, $105 million contract. He’s earning $19 million this season and in the ensuing two seasons, and then his salary decreases slightly to $18 million in 2019, $16 million in 2020, and $15 million if both sides pick up his mutual option (else a $4 million buyout would be exercised).

Per Cafardo, the Astros, Cardinals, Red Sox, Phillies, Mets, Giants, and White Sox are potential landing spots for Braun.