NC State's Rodon looks like top pick, future ace
Left-hander dominates UNC for third time with power and command
OMAHA, Neb. -- For some stars, the College World Series serves as a capper, a last hurrah before professional baseball beckons. For North Carolina State sophomore Carlos Rodon, it may be the springboard to much bigger things next year and down the road.
Rodon, considered a serious candidate to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft, looked every inch the ace and top prospect in his Omaha debut. He mowed down a superb North Carolina offense with power and command, showing the form that already has Major League front offices salivating.
With the 2013 Draft in the rearview mirror, it's not too early to look ahead to '14. Rodon's mind is surely on competing for a championship right now. But for front offices tasked with drafting next year, Sunday was quite a statement -- perhaps the beginning of a run that could culminate on Draft day next June.
"It's what he's been doing all year," said catcher Brett Austin. "He's pretty good. ... He had command of both his pitches today, and when he does that, he's as good as they get."
The 6-foot-3 left-hander has the stuff, command, and build of a prototypical power pitcher, but from the left side. His fastball hits the mid-90s. His slider makes hitters look silly. And he can locate them both.
Rodon didn't really flash a third pitch on Sunday -- Austin said he's developing a curveball -- but it's not as though he needed to. And his breaking ball can function as a couple of different pitches. It's small like a cutter at times, and bigger like a traditional slider at other times.
To top it all off, he has shined in the biggest situations. Sunday's outing made Rodon 2-0 with a 1.37 ERA in NCAA Tournament play this year. Counting his ACC Tournament start against North Carolina, he has allowed five runs on 19 hits in 36 1/3 postseason innings, with 41 strikeouts against five walks.
In an unfamiliar setting, but against a familiar foe, on Sunday, he kept it going. It was Rodon's third time facing UNC this year, and he's stifled the Heels each time.
While NC State's hitters said that they benefited from familiarity with UNC pitchers, the reverse apparently did not hold true.
"There's also familiarity for me, too," Rodon said. "Like I know what's going to work on this guy. I know I can get this guy out with a slider. But sometimes you pitch backwards. [Pitching coach Tom] Holliday calls the pitches. I don't really wipe off, so he does a great job calling the pitches, and I just roll with whatever he calls."
That attitude certainly worked on Sunday. Rodon, who has run up some high pitch counts at times this year, was not only effective but efficient against UNC. He entered the ninth inning with 93 pitches and finished the game with 108, a very tidy sum against an offense that ranked third in the country in walks and sixth in on-base percentage.
Carolina's hitters said that Rodon didn't necessarily do anything different on Sunday. He's just that good.
"He can control [his slider] and throw it at any count," said UNC catcher Brian Holbertson, an Astros Draft pick. "And then when he needs to, he can throw it 94, 95 [mph]. He could just throw every pitch today for strikes wherever he wanted, so he had everything working."
Even when North Carolina made contact, it was rarely hard contact. Rodon recorded 14 groundouts against five in the air, to go along with his eight Ks. There was simply never any doubt who was controlling this game. Rodon pounded the zone with superior stuff, and that's a recipe for success.
"It makes my job a lot easier," Austin said. "I don't even think I broke that big of a sweat today. I don't think I blocked a ball. When he does that, that's what separates him from the rest. He's special."
Matthew Leach is a writer for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.