RALEIGH, N.C. — Carlos Rodon is a lot of things: He's the 2012 NCBWA Freshman Pitcher of the Year, a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award and highly regarded as the No. 1 overall prospect in the country.
But in his two years with N.C. State, Rodon doesn’t have a National Championship with the school.
He plans to change that this year, according to head coach Elliott Avent.
"Carlos told me that if we get back (to the College World Series) we're going to win it," the Wolfpack coach said during the team’s media day. "We thought we should have won it last year."
The 6’3”, 234-pound southpaw even said it would be considered a “failure” if the team didn’t make it back to Omaha. And when they get there, he knows the team will already have a distinct advantage.
"When you’ve been there before, you know what to expect," Rodon said with confidence. "We know the crowds. We know the town. We know the surface. That’s definitely an advantage over teams that haven’t been there."
Though there could be a lot of familiarity in the College World Series, his approach on the mound has changed drastically since his last pitch in a Wolfpack uniform on an Omaha mound.
Rich Getting Richer
As a freshman, Rodon went 9-0 with a 1.57 ERA with 135 strikeouts in 117 innings pitched en route to winning the ACC Pitcher of the Year. At that point, he was already a lock to become the first-overall pick when he came out.
As a sophomore, he struggled at times while finishing with a 10-3 record, 2.99 ERA with 184 strikeouts in 132.1 innings pitched and clinched a spot on the All-ACC First Team. Needless to say, he did nothing to refute those claims.
Rather than sticking with the same pitches, Rodon wanted to add a few more breaking balls to his repertoire. During his time with the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team, Rodon worked with Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco, who was serving as Team USA's pitching coach, on both a curveball and changeup.
But Rodon said the process wasn't always a smooth one.
"At first it didn’t help because you’re trying new stuff out and wondering, 'Am I ever going to feel this pitch?'" Rodon said. "And eventually those pitches came to me. Obviously I’m still working on them, but it helps with confidence. […] Adding it to the repertoire is obviously going to help."
Rodon was clearly being somewhat modest about the new pitches, as they seemed to be working pretty well the last time he pitched. That game was against the Cuban National Team for USA Baseball, where he threw 6.2 shutout innings with 11 strikeouts against professional hitters.
For a pitch that he didn’t know would work for him, the 21-year-old went to the changeup as an out pitch on a regular basis. He also finished the summer with three wins, 21 strikeouts and a 0.00 ERA over 17 innings pitched.
Though he hasn’t thrown it in a game since the summer, Rodon showed off the changeup during a scrimmage and baffled his own teammates. Whether or not he has confidence in the new pitches, the lefty still has an old standby that should get him through.
"It’s not always like riding a bike, sometimes you’ll lose those pitches," Rodon said. "But I can wake up at four in the morning and throw the slider for a strike."
The Price is Right
Perfecting those two pitches has admittedly been Rodon's goal throughout the offseason, but one coach already believes they are good enough to make him an even better prospect.
TCU head coach Jim Schlossnagle, who was serving as USA Baseball's head coach, spoke about Rodon's development with Bianco and even made a comparison to a Cy Young Award winner.
"(Rodon) and coach Bianco spent time on that this summer, really similar to (David) Price and I in the summer of 2006," he said. "That’s the closest comparison because the fastball and slider are so firm. … (Price) didn’t have the overhand breaking ball that Carlos throws."
While that comparison might seem a bit bold, Schlossnagle is giving a first-hand account. Serving as the USA Baseball pitching coach for Price, he helped him develop a few more pitches that he slowly perfected at Vanderbilt and now with the Tampa Bay Rays.
As for what he thinks is next for Rodon after the college season ends, the TCU head coach made it pretty clear.
"(Tampa Bay Rays general manager) Andrew Friedman called me about Price," he said. "I expect someone there at the top of the draft is going to call us about Carlos."
Before he finished talking to reporters, Schlossnagle added one more note about Rodon, jokingly saying, "There are a lot of stakeholders in Carlos Rodon. And there should be."
In case some MLB fans weren’t aware, the Houston Astros hold the No. 1 overall pick.
The road to Omaha officially begins for Rodon and N.C. State on Saturday at Doak Field in Raleigh. The first pitch has yet to be thrown, but the goal for Rodon is clear: Omaha or bust.
*All quotes obtained from firsthand accounts during 2013 and 2014.
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