Everybody has one of those players. You don’t know how, or why, they ended up being so important to you. But they did, and that’s all that matters. Other players on the team are exciting, and their success is certainly worth celebrating as much as their failures are worth lamenting. But nothing quite compares to that one player. Because that’s your guy. His success is celebrated with the greatest joy, and his failures are met with the deepest anguish.
My guy is Carlos Rodon. I’m not sure how, or why, he ended up being so important to me. It was sometime between the time he was drafted third overall and the halfway point of his first major league season that he fell into my lap. It’s easy to see why he would appeal to anyone. The stuff is absolutely disgusting, with a filthy slider and a fastball that reaches the mid-to-upper 90s when he’s really feeling it. Add a formidable changeup to that repertoire and suddenly a future ace role isn’t out of the question. But litle has gone right for Rodon, and I’ve been challenged with confronting the reality of who he is in the present and who he will be in the future.
As Rodon’s first season passed by, one couldn’t help but think that things were only going to get better for the young southpaw as he matured and found command of his fastball. Control of his fastball came with time, but the results were never better than that rookie campaign. The best ERA of his career was in 2015 when he posted a value of 3.75. The next season he lowered his WHIP by 0.05 only to see his ERA soar above 4. Those two seasons left a lot to be desired, but Rodon was just 23 years old with plenty of room for reasonable growth.
Thus enters 2017 into Rodon’s story. It was supposed to be the breakout year, the year where he finally figured it out. He had the stuff, had improved his control, and was just a couple steps away from stepping into a role in the top of the rotation. Instead, Rodon didn’t see a major league mound until late June because he was bothered by bursitis in his throwing arm. That was certainly worrisome, but rest was supposed to help. Everything was going to be OK once he got back on the mound and into the groove of the game. Instead, everything was not alright. Everything went wrong.
Rodon made just 12 starts for a total of 69 1/3 innings this season. He pitched fine over that stretch, pulling out incredible starts paired with disappointing ones. The results, in the grand scheme of things, aren’t that important. They were in a small sample, and they were followed by the young lefty being shut down with a month of the season remaining. That shut down could have reasonably been interpreted as the team taking a proactive approach regarding injured young players. That interpretation, however, lost its value when it was announced that Rodon went under the knife in late September.
The details of Rodon’s surgery are not intimately known, but it is known that his shoulder was operated on. Even if the specifics were known, it’s tough to make a prediction about what it means. Each arm heals differently and reacts differently to surgery, rehabilitation, and return to high stress baseball activities. That leaves Rodon’s future very much in doubt as we look toward 2018. The expectations from a year ago are all but thrown away, and we’re left with almost nothing to go off of in terms of predicting his future.
Rodon’s arm could heal with ease over the coming months, putting him on the mound by spring training and returning to a dominant form. Or it could cause his entire career to crumble, putting him in a far too large group of young pitchers who never even got a chance to get going before their arm refused to continue working. It’s simply impossible to say what is next for Rodon. To have his career crumble in such a heartbreaking fashion would be a tragedy, but seeing him rise from this injury to finally be the pitcher we all envisioned when he was drafted over three years ago would be the greatest triumph of all. The road Rodon takes is yet to be determined, but hope still remains for those who are willing to keep believing.
Lead photo credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports