On April 21, 2015, Carlos Rodon made his major league debut, appearing in relief against the Cleveland Indians to throw 2.1 innings, allowing two runs, walking three, and striking out only one. Rodon’s debut was only preceded by Brandon Finnegan, then of the Royals, among players drafted in 2014, and one of only seven made by players of his class to date (Kyle Schwarber, Michael Conforto, Trea Turner, Aaron Nola, and Jacob Lindgren make up the remaining five).
Rodon would go on to throw 139.1 innings in his rookie season, posting an ERA of 3.75 while striking out 139 and walking 71. While inarguably a respectable rookie year, Rodon did not receive any consideration for the AL Rookie of the Year, an award conversation dominated by an incredible class of position players (the only pitcher to even receive votes was Toronto closer Roberto Osuna).
While Rodon did not stand out in comparison to superstar rookies like Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor, his season was special in its own right. Even his workload in 2015 made him unique amongst recent draftees. Not only does Rodon lead his class in major league innings to date, but he has thrown more at the big league level than anyone drafted the year before him as well. While college pitchers drafted in 2013 like Mark Appel, Jon Gray, and Sean Manaea are still prospects on the Baseball Prospectus Top 101, Rodon has already lost his eligibility for such lists. Looking even further back, his workload still stands out: Rodon’s 139.1 IP in 2015 is more than any pitcher in the 21st century in the year after they were drafted.
But Rodon was not simply an innings eater. While 2015 wasn’t all smooth sailing for the burly lefty (most notably evidenced by his BB/9 rate of 4.59), Rodon’s 2015 was historically successful for a pitcher so new to professional baseball. Since the draft was instituted in 1965, only six pitchers — Ken Holtzman, Gary Nolan, Tom Seaver*, Bob Shirley, Bobby Witt, and Mark Prior — have posted more than Rodon’s 139 Ks in the year after they were drafted. While obviously many of these players were of different eras — it’s safe to bet no pitcher will ever match Tom Seaver’s 251 IP, 34 start, 18 CG rookie season ever — it’s evident that season’s like Rodon’s are really quite rare.
*note that while Tom Seaver was drafted in 1966 by the Atlanta Braves, their pick was voided, and he would go on to sign as an amateur FA with the Mets
So, after posting such a standout season, what can we expect out of Carlos Rodon going forward? Obviously none of the aforementioned pitchers are fair comps — only Prior is even of a similar era, and for all o Rodon’s strengths his ceiling doesn’t touch what Prior could’ve been — but if we loosen our constraints a bit, we can find a few pitchers with similar developmental paths as Rodon. Needless to say, he’s in elite company, with the likes of Chris Sale, David Price, Stephen Strasburg, and Michael Wacha standing out as recent pitchers who spent little time in the minors.
None of these pitchers bear much resemblance to Rodon in terms of developmental path, however. While he was certainly a highly regarded pitcher coming out of college, Rodon’s prospect status paled in comparison to what Strasburg was when he debuted in 2010. Likewise, Rodon’s hype dwarfed that of Wacha, who was considered a low-ceiling type (though he certainly flashed much more than that briefly in 2013 before shoulder injuries derailed his ascent to stardom). Sale and Price also are tough comps because of their time in the big league bullpen before graduating to the rotation (and of course, it would take a lot for Rodon to even touch their level of dominance during the 2010s). The only recent pitcher that’s even come close to Rodon’s 139.1 IP after being drafted is Mike Leake, but Leake’s ceiling was never seen like Rodon’s is.
All told, Rodon’s quick ascent from high draft pick to quality major league starter puts him in quite rarified air. While there are still kinks to be worked out, for him to have his success with his youth makes the future seem incredibly bright. Working under the tutelage of Don Cooper, Rodon may be ready to be Chris Sale’s left-hand man sooner rather than later.
Lead photo courtesy Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports