Carlos Rodon shows an unmatched winning mindset that Yankees relish

Carlos Rodon is practicing pitching.

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Carlos Rodon signed a six-year, $162 million deal with the Yankees last month. When he was introduced as a Yankee, Brian Cashman informed that the team liked more than just Rodon’s pitching style.

“One thing I can say is from all the information we gathered from his teammates in Chicago and San Francisco, he has a competitive side probably second to none,’’ the general manager said. “He really wants to win.”

This spirit goes back to a time long before Carlos Rodon joined the White Sox and then moved on to the Giants. Elliott Avent, who coached Rodon at North Carolina State, once said:

“Every game he pitches, he goes to a different place. They lock him up. The bigger the game, the more serious he gets about it.”

Avent, who has been the head coach at NC State for the past 27 years, has seen Carlos Rodon going from a promising high school pitcher to the third pick in the 2014 amateur draft. The starting pitcher reminded him of two other pitchers who were known for being competitive when he was playing under him.

“Even when he was young, he was a big, strong left-hander with a massive body,’’ Avent said. “He’s like Roger Clemens with his temperament. I told him he was like a left-handed Clemens or Bob Gibson, from my era. His fastball was unbelievable, and no one could hit the slider. It was dominant.”

Even when he went to Holly Springs High School in North Carolina, Carlos Rodon was pretty good at those pitches. He played there for Rod Whitesell, who is still the head coach and athletic director at the school, which is about 20 miles from the NC State campus in Raleigh. According to him:

“Carlos Rodon always had an aggressive mentality, right when we got him as a freshman. We’d have a scouting report on another team and say to pitchers, ‘Don’t throw this guy a fastball,’ and he’d say, ‘They haven’t seen my fastball.’ And he was right. We always wanted him to throw his.’’

In 2011, Carlos Rodon pitched and played first base for Holly Springs, which won the state championship. The Brewers picked him up in the 16th round, but he chose to go to NC State instead. In high school, Carlos Rodon was so sure of his skills that he would often ignore scouting reports that told him not to throw his best pitches.

As a freshman in college, Carlos Rodon went 9-0, and a year later, in 2012, he led the Wolfpack to the College World Series for the first time since 1968. In Omaha, Carlos Rodon pitched eight scoreless innings to beat a rival team, North Carolina. However, after three days off, Rodon lost to the Tar Heels to end the season.

In the major leagues, Carlos Rodon’s fire has sometimes gotten the best of him, like when he kicked a bat after a bad inning during a July 26 start for the Giants in Arizona. The bat hit Thairo Estrada, who used to play for the Yankees. Gabe Kapler, his manager, didn’t like how angry Carlos Rodon became after the game.

Carlos Rodon apologized right away to Estrada, who stayed in the game, and he also said sorry in front of everyone after they lost. Whitesell said, “He channels his competitiveness and uses it to get better; I know people were confused after he kicked the bat, but he just wants to win and is a great teammate. Carlos’ most important trait is that he wants to win.”

In the last few years, Carlos Rodon’s competitiveness has made him one of the best pitchers in baseball, but it has also sometimes got the better of the eight-year veteran.

The Yankees think that Carlos Rodon, who just turned 30, is at his best right now. Even though injuries have hampered his career, he has made a total of 55 starts in the last two years. Carlos Rodon has become one of the best pitchers in the game since the White Sox put him on waiver after the 2020 season.

He’s done well at Yankee Stadium, where Carlos Rodon’s threw his first pitch in the summer of 2012 and was named a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award, which is given to the best college player in the country.

Carlos Rodon was only a freshman at the time, and he needed to throw a bullpen session before he could pitch for USA Baseball’s collegiate national team.

“We had to find a place to throw and it was late at night, so we got him some cleats at a store in Times Square and then hopped a fence in Central Park and threw ’til the cops chased us out,’’ Avent said.

Carlos Rodon deal made the Yankees more ambitious

The Yankees signed Rodon for $162 million to become Gerrit Cole‘s co-ace. They kept Judge and Anthony Rizzo ($40 million) and brought in Carlos Rodon ($162 million) and Tommy Kahnle, an old friend ($11.5 million). Rodon, who has a lot of strikeouts and is prone to injuries, raises the ceiling for a team that won 99 games last season. To catch up to the Astros, they may need to do more work, like develop prospects like Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza.

With help from FanGraphs Depth Charts, MLB did an up-to-date count of which teams had the best players at each position. According to it, “the Yankees are closest challengers at catcher, second base, center field, right field, and designated hitter, but they were given the top spot for their projected 16.3 fWAR starting rotation.” Despite Frankie Montas’ injury keeping him away for a month, the rotation looks fearsome with the top four.

The Yankees cam bank on their home-grown players. Oswaldo Peraza is in a good position to win the starting shortstop job, Oswaldo Cabrera is ready to make the Opening Day roster as a jack-of-all-trades utilityman, and top prospect Anthony Volpe wants to make an impact.

The Yankees also have Nestor Cortes, who pitches with a lot of variety when he was on the mound. Cortes has become a key part of the Yankees’ rotation in his two years with the team. Even though he pitched in an unusual way, he gained fans who liked and respected him. His contract is cheap and good for the team. When Cortes was pitching, you knew you were in for a show, and it was usually a good one. In 28 games he started and 158.1 innings he pitched, his ERA was 2.44 and his xERA was 2.70. He also had a FIP of 3.13, an xFIP of 3.60, and an fWAR of 3.6. Those were by far the best numbers of his career, and his 2.44 ERA was much better than his 2.90 ERA in 2021, which was his first big year.

The rotation led by Cole, Cortes, and Carlos Rodon is going to wreck the best offensive lineups.

The kids are ready to man the roster

Isiah Kiner-first Falefa’s year with the Yankees wasn’t very good, so the team probably won’t decide who will play shortstop on Opening Day until spring training. This is partly on purpose by the Yankees. Since they didn’t sign any shortstop free agents in the last two years, it’s clear that they’ve decided to wait for either Oswald Peraza or Anthony Volpe to become the answer. They got Isiah Kiner-Falefa in a trade last year, and the results were very mixed, especially on defense.

The Yankees are still happy with how Peraza and Volpe are doing. Peraza showed promise when he was in the majors for a short time at the end of last season, and Volpe did well when he was moved up to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

The names Cabrera and Peraza might be the ones that say the most about the Yankees’ team in 2023. With Anthony Volpe, an even better prospect, it looks like the Yankees are counting on the kids to make over 1000 plate appearances between them this season.

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