Nearly three years ago, through the doorway that led from the players' locker room to the dugout at Doak Field walked Carlos Rodon for his first interview as a college athlete. The sun was blinding on that hot August afternoon, much like the future for the 18-year-old left-hander.
Rodon was accompanied by Brett Austin and Trea Turner. Austin was a fellow top overall prospect who was a first-round compensatory pick, and Turner was taken in the 20th round by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The only media that greeted the three future stars were a writer and photographer from the Technician, N.C. State's student newspaper. On that day, Rodon spoke to me about just how instrumental the other two players were in convincing him to commit to the Wolfpack:
The guys were excited when I talked to them last night. They kept saying, "You've got to come to school, if we don't have you it's going to be a big loss." I told them all last night that they didn't need to worry, I'm coming to school to play with them.
All of the coaches here at State are the best. They are like family to me. That was the main reason why I decided to come here – it felt like home. Playing pro ball would have been lonely and I don't feel ready for that just yet.
Rodon broke out during his freshman season, going 9-0 and leading the ACC in ERA (1.57), innings pitched (114.2), complete games (two) and opponents' batting average (.176). Not only was he the ace of his staff as a freshman, he was the best player in one of the premier college baseball conferences.
That campaign would translate into an ACC Pitcher of the Year honor, but what would follow was something that hasn't occurred at N.C. State in 45 years.
Every Wolfpack fan knew just how long it had been since their team made the College World Series. In fact, the keypad code to the clubhouse was 1968. As sophomores, Rodon, Turner and Austin broke the 45-year drought by making it back to Omaha.
Though N.C. State would fall short of winning the title, the Holly Springs, North Carolina, native made an indelible impression on scouts that would only grow. The following summer, the southpaw would work harder to grow as a player with the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team.
Rodon developed multiple new pitches, including a curveball and changeup, with Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco. He referenced that time spent last summer while speaking with me before the 2014 season started:
At first it didn't help because you're trying new stuff out and wondering, "Am I ever going to feel this pitch?" 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. ...
It's not always like riding a bike, sometimes you'll lose those pitches. But I can wake up at four in the morning and throw the slider for a strike.
The rising junior was sensational with Team USA, most notably mowing down Team Cuba twice and growing the legend of Carlos Rodon.
That was when the comparisons started.
While very few players are thrust into being a "lock" as a No. 1 pick, Rodon was already being compared to a former 1-1 that was already a Cy Young Award winner. TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle made reference to that comparison after coaching both lefties with Team USA.
(Rodon) and coach Bianco spent time on that this summer, really similar to (David) Price and I in the summer of 2006. That's the closest comparison because the fastball and slider are so firm. ... (Price) didn't have the overhand breaking ball that Carlos throws.
(Tampa Bay Rays general manager) Andrew Friedman called me about Price. I expect someone there at the top of the draft is going to call us about Carlos.
Will Rodon go No. 1 overall?
Coming into the 2014 season, the expectations were staggering. Not only was Rodon assumed to be the best player in the country, he essentially needed to be perfect to live up to the predictions.
A slow start to the season—something he also experienced during 2013—would raise doubt in scouts' and analysts' minds. The 2012 ACC Pitcher of the Year went just 6-7, but he did so with a a 2.01 ERA, 117 strikeouts and just under 100 innings pitched.
Still, his stock began to drop, more so due to the rise of Brady Aiken and Tyler Kolek, two powerful high school pitchers in their own right. Peter Gammons of MLB.com notes one general manager's thoughts:
GM:"Draft is so confused, if Aiken, Jackson, Kolek, Gordon go 1-2-3-5 and Cubs take a bat, where does Rodon go? Seattle?— Peter Gammons (@pgammo) June 3, 2014
Meanwhile, draft analysts like John Manuel of Baseball America—who has watched Rodon develop minutes away from his home in Durham—still believes he is No. 1 pick material, via The David Glenn Show:
Manuel on Rodon: I don't think he'll fall farther than 4th pick in draft, and number one is still a possibility.— David Glenn Show (@DavidGlennShow) May 29, 2014
Manuel: some people put off by Rodon's confidence. I would want my 21-year old son to be that confident. Need that to be MLB pitcher.— David Glenn Show (@DavidGlennShow) May 29, 2014
After doing everything he possibly could for three years with N.C. State, all Rodon can do now is wait. The 6'3", 234-pounder has struck fear in nearly every batter he's faced for years, but his fate is now in the hands of some general manager at the top of the draft.
Regardless of what team he lands with, Rodon has the poise, determination and overall talent to reach the major leagues at a meteoric rate. Following a dazzling career in college, the now-21-year-old is destined for stardom with any team willing to take a chance on him.
The past for Carlos Rodon is bright, but the future for this ace is nearly blinding.
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