Next June, it is widely believed the Houston Astros will have one of the top 2 picks in the First-Year Player draft. There are quite a few prospects clamoring for the top spot, but only two really stand out: Carlos Rodon, the masterful lefty ace from N.C. State, and Jacob Gatewood, a HS shortstop from Clovis, CA, and a really terrific athlete. Gatewood is projected as a five-tool player with huge power potential. A popular comparison is Troy Tulowitzki, the star shortstop for the Colorado Rockies. But the Astros already have a glut of high school shortstops in their farm system, as recently as Carlos Correa, their 1-1 pick just last year. While they will have to consider Gatewood's potential, they will also have to consider the amount of time it will take for him to get to the big leagues. If the Astros aim to compete by 2015, he just isn't the guy for them.
Rodon, on the other hand, would be a great pick. At 6-2, 234 pounds, he has a workhorse frame. Additionally, he has top-of-the-rotation stuff, Rodon's slider averages 94-96, occasionally touching 97-98 late in games, similar to Justin Verlander, the Detroit Tigers' ace. He also has a great change-of-speed pitch in his changeup, which is around 82 MPH, with above-average movement. But his best pitch is undoubtedly his slider. Rodon's slider is absolutely masterful, reminding Astros fan of Brad Lidge's terrific slider during his years as a closer for the team. Rodon also has a nice cutter, which could become a great out pitch during his MLB career.
All that screams of potential ace. But the best part about Rodon is that he's already realized it. In his freshman year at N.C. State, he went 9-0 with a sparkling 1.57 ERA, and held opponents to a .176 BA. He threw 135 strikeouts in 114.2 innings, which was tied for third in the country. He won the ACC Freshman of the Year, was the first freshman to win ACC Pitcher of the Year, was a consensus First-Team All-American, earned a spot on USA Baseball's Collegiate National Team, and was the first freshman to make the Golden Spikes Award finals. This year, he went 9-2 with a 3.19 ERA, held opposing hitters to a .201 BA (in fact, that was inflated by a .314 BABIP), struck out 170 batters in 118.3 innings, and had an unparalleled K/9 of 12.93. Rodon also combined with his closer for a no-hitter, throwing 7 innings, striking out 14, and only issuing one walk. Right now, he is pitching in the CWS for N.C. State for the second consecutive year.
Of course, Rodon is not without his faults. According to some scouts, he depends too much on his slider and cutter, instead of using his fastball. This adds to wear and tear on a young pitcher's arm. Additionally, he has thrown over 110 innings in each of the last two years, making some believe his arm will simply give out. But for a pitcher of Rodon's caliber, with his overpowering fastball, masterful slider, and other secondary pitches, plus the production he has proven he can put up, the Astros simply cannot pass on Rodon if he falls into their hands.