Carlos Rodon: What Could Have Been

Rodon

On Monday, the 2012 MLB Draft will take place, with the Brewers selecting twice in the first round for the second year in a row. What will happen in the days and weeks to come is a question for people smarter and better connected than me, but it seems like a good time to look back at the 2011 draft, especially considering that two of last year’s most important draftees both pitched last night. 12th overall pick Taylor Jungmann, a right-hander, allowed three runs in 6 2/3 innings for high-A Brevard County. 491st overall pick Carlos Rodon, also a righty, posted the same line for the NC State Wolfpack in the College World Series.

The devil is in the details. Since making his pro debut, Jungmann has neither flopped nor dominated, with his stuff apparently neither taking a big turn for the worse or for the better. (The same can be said about fellow first-rounder Jed Bradley.) However, Rodon, a 16th round pick who passed on the Brewers’ above-slot bonus in favor of a
scholarship to NC State, has seen his stock soar, with and one national writer saying that, if he were eligible, he would go first overall this year.

Based on talent alone, Rodon figured to be picked in the first few rounds last year, but concerns about his bonus demands (he was reportedly seeking a bonus in the $700,000 range, or sandwich round money, and had a strong commitment to NC State) led some teams to shy away. Either way, most people thought he would still be picked in the first five rounds. However, he wasn’t picked in the first five, or the first ten. (The Brewers apparently told him they would take him in the fourth round if he signed for the $200,000 bonus recommended by MLB for that slot, but he turned it down.)  Rodon slid all the way to the 16th round, where Milwaukee took him with the 491st overall pick.

Though it will likely change with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams in the past were always able to take flyers on guys like Rodon in the mid-to-late rounds, hoping they could buy them away from college with a way-above-slot deal, especially if one of their top picks didn’t sign. It was known that Rodon, who was ranked the 66th best high schooler in the country by Baseball America, was going to require such an above-slot contract to become a Brewer, and the player and team were roughly half a million apart. (It’s worth noting that, with big over-slot deals essentially banned in the new CBA, these negotiations would probably have never taken place this year.) In the days leading up the August signing deadline, negotiations heated up, but the day before the deadline, it was clear that Rodon was headed to college.

Almost as soon as the season started, word started getting around on Rodon, whose velocity had crept into the mid 90s, along with a full arsenal of breaking stuff. Rodon was the ace of NC State’s staff this year, allowing just 66 hits in 105(!) innings and striking out 126.  He was the ACC Freshman of the Year, Pitcher of the Year, and was a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award. Almost every college baseball/scouting publication listed him as their breakout guy for the year. As we mentioned before, BA’s Aaron Fitt stated that Rodon would be the first overall pick this year if he was eligible. In the future, failing to come to terms with Rodon may turn out to be more painful than any of the recurring injuries the Brewers have suffered this season.

It’s worth noting that Rodon is a freshman in college, and a lot of things can go wrong between now, the day he is drafted again, and whatever future he may one day have in the big league. Also, Jungmann and Bradley have largely performed as expected this year, so there’s no reason to slam the Brewers for picking them or any of the other guys who received a big bonus. There’s no reason to judge any of them one year after being drafted: Look how much things changed for Rodon in a year’s time. However, it’s already looking like last year’s draft might end up being best remembered by the one that got away.  

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