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The third pick of the 2014 draft, Caros Rodon needed less than 35 innings of minor-league ball before the White Sox introduced him to the show. The South Siders called up the young southpaw in mid-April and started him off in the bullpen, giving him three stints—two of the multi-inning variety—in games where the White Sox were trailing. But on Saturday, he had the first start of his big-league career, taking the ball in an interleague matchup with the Cincinnati Reds. It was the second game of a day-night doubleheader, as a makeup for the previous day's rainout, but the rookie's starting debut overshadowed the events of game one.

Game Stats

IP

R

H

BB

K

PC

6.0

2

4

4

8

108

Rodon walked the first batter of the game, which is always a bad idea, but carries additional consequences when the leadoff hitter in question is Billy Hamilton. Nobody was shocked when Hamilton took off for second base, but catcher Geovany Soto rushed his process and let the ball get by him, giving the speedy outfielder third base. Rodon then walked the second batter of the game, outfielder Marlon Byrd, following an eight-pitch encounter in which Rodon was within a friendly call of registering his first strikeout on a mean 3-2 slider.

The free passes took on different shapes, as the Hamilton at-bat started with a 3-0 count via a trio of over-rotated fastballs, whereas Byrd’s plate appearance started with an 0-2 count and included multiple fouls. Rodon settled down after those initial walks, both literally and figuratively, as his quick-paced breathing patterns of the first couple of batters slowed throughout the inning. There was a crucial pitch to Joey Votto, a well-located slider that had Soto pumped up, and after that point Rodon's command showed noticeable improvement.

Rodon ran into some trouble in the third inning, with four consecutive Reds reaching base and two runs scoring on a Votto single, but the 22-year old shut the Reds down in four of his six innings pitched. He was hitting targets most of the day, mixing and matching his slider and fastball with a two-pitch approach that was more versatile that it sounds. The 22-year old varied his velocity on both pitches, often invoking sinking action on his fastball while throwing the pitch anywhere from 92 to 99 mph. He also built velocity throughout the game, spiking his fastest pitches after crossing the 80-pitch mark. Few pitchers are able to add velocity as the game progresses (peak Justin Verlander comes to mind), let alone pitchers of Rodon's relative youth and inexperience, but the results from his first start were telling.

His slider was as good as advertised, with sick tilt that's not so much late as it is subtle. The breaker takes a fastball trajectory out of hand, which combines with the high levels of velocity to throw off the timing of opposing hitters. Rodon showed the confidence to throw his slider early in the count, and he was able to keep the ball down in the zone and under the Cincy bats. He also displayed a willingness to throw the pitch in three-ball counts, and his frequency of late-in-at-bat sliders resulted in six of his eight strikeouts as well as three of his four walks on the day.

He was hitting a lot of different numbers on the radar gun while keeping his pitches within a band of 84 to 99 mph, mostly staying within 86 to 96 mph for the first few innings. Don Cooper and the White Sox left him out there for 107 pitches, and every indication from Rodon was that he was up to the challenge. Some might expect the Sox to slowly build the rook's pitch count, but the kid gloves were off the day that they drafted him, and that was never more apparent than when watching him turn his stuff up a notch as he got deeper in the ballgame. Cooper and the Sox have earned an additional level of trust when it comes to handling their pitchers, and in Rodon's case I believe that it is warranted to think outside the conventional box—exceptional players often require an exceptional approach, and Rodon has the mechanical baselines to support an accelerated development path.

Mechanics Report Card

Balance

70

Momentum

55

Torque

60

Posture

55

Repetition

55

Overall

B+

For an explanation on the grading system for pitching mechanics, please consult these pair of articles.

I gave Rodon a mechanics grade of a B+ in the 2015 Starting Pitcher Guide, which is just an incredible score for an amateur pitcher, though that grade was made without knowing much about his ability to repeat the delivery (his Repetition grade was N/A). After an extended viewing, I'm comfortable putting an above-average grade on his mechanical repetition (at least for his first start) with an even higher ceiling that justifies the B+ overall grade when factoring in his considerable upside.

His balance is exceptional, maintaining a stable head position above the center-of-mass in all three planes. There is virtually no drop or tilt, and Rodon avoids the Z-plane issues that cause a lot of young pitchers to trail behind the body during stride or to finish out in front. This is another area where Rodon is way ahead of the typical development curve, as most young pitchers are focused on power over stability, yet Rondon has established the physical baselines to support the optimism that his repetition will continue to improve. He does have some late spine tilt that takes him a bit off course, but I expect this to to improve as he develops physically and mechanically.

There are some young pitchers who will emphasize stability, but this typically comes at the expense of power, as the two attributes are naturally at odds and young players typically lack the experience to have found their own ideal signature. Once again, Rodon is atypical in this department, earning plus marks for both momentum and torque to fuel a power arsenal that is well supported by his mechanics. The torque is not quite what one might expect considering his ability to hit 99 mph from the left side, an aspect which speaks to Rodon's arm strength, but he earns plus marks for hip-shoulder separation when his trigger is well-timed (though he does have a tendency to rotate early in the kinetic chain).

The torque is mostly generated from Rodon's upper half due to late hip rotation that requires a significant delay in order to generate separation. He was slowed down a little bit when compared to his college days, an element which could have contributed to the incidence of early trunk rotation, though his direction of momentum remained strong throughout the delivery. The relative weak links in his delivery are largely interconnected, as momentum is the first piece of the equation for timing, and one can imagine future improvements with posture and repetition that go hand-in-hand.

Thank you for reading

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boatman44
5/14
Not on topic,

It was so interesting through ALL these Gif's to see the influence Soto had on the young hurler, from behind the plate ,I would be extremely surprised if Soto doesn't catch for Rodon throughout his stay in the bigs, for this season.
mlsgrad99
5/14
Good stuff here. The GIFs make it a lot easier for me to follow the arguments in the article as well.
dougkm
5/14
As an Astros fan who follows the minor leagues very closely, this is pure torture. The Astros were planning to take him at 1/1 before the braintrust changed their minds and took Aiken. This guy would look real good in our starting staff right now. Ugh!