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.”

Tiger Stadium redevelopment group loses $50K because of its preference for artificial turf

Navin Field
Craig Calcaterra
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We’ve posted frequently on the topic of the old Tiger Stadium site. If you’ve kept up with it you know that the site, nearly overgrown with weeds and strewn with trash before being rescued by a group of volunteers called the Navin Field Grounds Crew, is now being slated for redevelopment by the Detroit Police Athletic League.

The PAL is committed to keeping a baseball field as part of the development, but they are also, quite unfortunately, committed to putting artificial turf down over the bit of Earth where baseball legends once walked and ran.

Backlash to the plan has begun, however. Not just from people like me or the Navin Field Grounds Crew, who are opposed to fake grass, but to an actual donor to the Detroit Police Athletic League:

With an annual contribution of $50,000 to Detroit PAL’s programs, the Lear Corporation has been a major benefactor of the nonprofit for years. But in light of PAL’s controversial plan to redevelop the Tiger Stadium site with artificial turf, Lear’s CEO is speaking out.

Matthew Simoncini says that Lear is withdrawing its financial support of PAL for its mishandling of this delicate issue.

“I believe the [PAL] plan is severely flawed [and] a terrible use of resources,” says Simoncini. “[It] does not preserve this site and provides [an] unsafe playing surface for the children,”

I’m guessing $50,000 is not the sort of money that will seriously hinder a real estate redevelopment plan, but it’s good to hear someone with a stake in all of this voting with their wallet. Here’s hoping more do and that, eventually, PAL understands that there are some things more important than saving some money at the front end of a project.

Evan Gattis undergoes surgery for hernia; recovery is 4-6 weeks

evan gattis
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images North America
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Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle shares the bad news

One of the Astros’ big bats won’t be taking hacks when the Astros hold their first full workout on Feb. 23.

Astros designated hitter Evan Gattis recently underwent surgery to repair a hernia, the Chronicle has learned, taking away most of his spring training at a minimum. The recovery is four to six weeks but fortunately for Gattis and the Astros, the injury is not considered severe.

Gattis was working hard on his overall conditioning this winter, even telling MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart in late January that he had already dropped 18 pounds. It sounds like the big slugger might have gone a bit overboard with those workouts, and now he is in real danger of missing the first couple weeks of the 2016 regular season.

Gattis batted .246/.285/.463 with 27 home runs and 88 RBI in 153 games last season for the Astros. The 29-year-old is arbitration-eligible for the first time in his career and has a hearing with the Astros scheduled for February 16 to determine his salary for 2016. He requested $3.8 million and was offered $3 million when figures were exchanged a little over three weeks ago.

Suddenly the Astros’ front office might have a new talking point for those arbitrators.

Seung-Hwan Oh finally receives his work visa, will be on time for Cardinals camp

Screenshot 2016-02-09 at 8.01.48 PM
Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images AsiaPac
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At last check, new Cardinals reliever Seung-Hwan Oh was still awaiting a work visa from the United States Embassy in South Korea and there was some worry that he might not be able to arrive on time to spring training in Jupiter, Florida.

But that is now officially a non-story.

Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Oh has recieved his work visa and is expected to report to Cardinals camp next week along with the rest of the club’s pitchers and catchers. Oh might even show up a bit earlier than the Cardinals originally asked him to, per Goold.

Oh saved 357 games in 11 seasons between Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball and the Korea Baseball Organization before inking a one-year contract with St. Louis this winter. He also registered a stellar 1.81 ERA and 772 strikeouts across 646 total innings in Asia, earning the nickname “The Final Boss.”

Oh is expected to work in a setup role this year for Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal.

John Lamb had back surgery in December, will likely get off to late start in 2016

Screenshot 2016-02-09 at 6.00.13 PM
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images North America
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John Lamb was part of the Reds’ return package in last July’s Johnny Cueto trade and he had a strong showing at the Triple-A level in 2015. But the young left-hander posted a 5.80 ERA in a 10-start cup of coffee with Cincinnati late last season — his first 10 appearances as a major leaguer — and now comes word from MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon that Lamb will probably have to get off to a late start in 2016.

Lamb underwent surgery in December to repair a herniated disc in his back — a surgery that went unreported by the Reds until Tuesday afternoon. Reds manager Bryan Price acknowledged on MLB Network that Lamb is behind the team’s other starting pitchers and will likely open the coming season on the disabled list. The hope is that he might be ready by mid-April.

It’s a small but frustrating blow for a rebuilding Reds team that will be looking to establish some foundational pieces in 2016. Once he is recovered, Lamb will be expected to fill the Reds’ fifth rotation spot behind Raisel Iglesias, Anthony DeSclafani, Brandon Finnegan, and Michael Lorenzen.

This is going to be an ugly year for Cincinnati baseball fans.