A non-tender to a no-hitter.
A nine-year minor leaguer taking the majors by storm.
A former first-rounder who was a question mark to even make the team just a few weeks ago.
These are the stories of Carlos Rodon, Yermin Mercedes, and Zack Collins that are defining an otherwise maddening start to the 2021 season for the Chicago White Sox. The White Sox may be just 6-6 entering play on Thursday, but there’s no shortage of reasons to feel good on the Southside.
None of the three players stealing the headlines in the first two weeks of the season were even locks to make the Opening Day roster when camp opened in February. Probably the longest shot of the trio to make the team was Yermin Mercedes. It took an unfortunate series of injuries to Eloy Jimenez and Adam Engel and the dismissal of veteran Jonathan Lucroy late in camp to get Mercedes his first crack at an Opening Day roster spot.
After spending nine years in the minors and playing for three different MLB organizations with some indy ball sprinkled in, Mercedes burst onto the scene this season with a 5-for-5 performance in his first career start on April 2 against the Los Angeles Angels.
Mercedes, 28, followed that performance up by gathering three more hits the very next night before finally flying out in his fourth at-bat of the night on April 3 against the Angels.
Mercedes hasn’t slowed down since that opening weekend, instead, he’s put a temporary (at least) stranglehold on the bulk of the designated hitter at-bats for the White Sox. Through 10 games Mercedes is slashing .500/.548/.816/1.364 with three home runs, three doubles, and 10 RBI. Mercedes has already amassed 1.0 fWAR and has a paltry 280 wRC+ through his first 42 plate appearances of the season.
Wednesday night Mercedes crushed a 431-foot home run into the night sky at Guaranteed Rate Field, an absolute missile that left his bat at a sizzling 111.2 miles per hour. A “galactical home run,” as White Sox play-by-play man Jason Benetti called it on Wednesday night’s NBC Sports Chicago broadcast.
The question has been asked ad nauseam, and probably applies to everyone in this trio, “how long will it last?” For Mercedes, he’s never had an issue hitting during his time in professional baseball, and while he’s only amassed 42 plate appearances this season, they’ve been 42 of the most professional at-bats than anyone in baseball has taken. Mercedes simply doesn’t expand his strike zone, and unlike most in baseball today, he brings more than one swing to the table, allowing him to be a successful two-strike hitter.
Carlos Rodon went from being the third overall pick in 2014 to non-tendered this winter. Now, after signing a one-year prove-it deal and winning a spot in the rotation with a strong Cactus League performance this spring, Rodon has gone from non-tender to a no-hitter.
As I wrote in my column on the no-hitter and Rodon’s journey to this point, we saw a different version of Carlos Rodon on Wednesday night. Gone was the Rodon who would struggle through four or five innings when his wipeout slider wasn’t working, and present was a version of Carlos Rodon that was able to quickly identify that his slider wasn’t quite there and quickly pivot to relying on changing speeds with his fastball and changeup.
A fastball and changeup that kept Cleveland hitters off balance for three innings before Rodon registered his first strikeout, at which point he began to gain a feel for his slider and then struck out seven hitters over the final five innings en route to his no-hitter.
Carlos Rodon is finally looking like the Rodon the White Sox drafted. Carlos Rodon might be one of the most important pieces to the puzzle in the White Sox’s success this season as the fifth starter if he can continue to pitch like he has in his first two starts of the season. Two starts in which he has put together 14 scoreless innings with 16 strikeouts, three walks, and just two hits.
If there’s any doubt about the emotions that Carlos Rodon and his family have experienced the last half-decade, here’s what his wife Ashley Rodon has to say on Twitter last night after the no-hitter.
“My tears did not come at the end of the game. They came in the seventh inning as I watched all the fans stand and cheer with two outs. No-hitter or not, I couldn’t help but get emotional. We have been through hell. Carlos has been through hell and back. I have prayed for him to have those moments and God gave them to him. Tonight I go to bed with a full heart. Thank you fans for giving him that moment. After that, I knew it was all gas no breaks. A night we will never forget.”
Raw emotion from a wife that has watched her husband be labeled a draft bust, watched her husband battle years of injuries and rehabs. Watched her husband battle inconsistency. Now she got to watch her husband toss a no-hitter and etch his name in the record books of baseball.
Rodon tossed that no-hitter to catcher Zack Collins. Collins a fellow former first-rounder who many didn’t even think he had a spot on this team during Spring Training.
The Athletic’s James Fegan recanted this morning on 670 The Score a story in which a scout texted him a few years ago that Zack Collins might have gone number one in the 2016 MLB Draft if anyone thought that he had an, “even 10 percent shot at being a major league catcher.”
Well, not only is he a major league catcher, he’s already caught his first no-hitter.
While Collins has plenty of work ahead of him in his development as both a catcher and a hitter, Rodon’s no-hitter is a moment he will never forget.
While the White Sox themselves have plenty of work ahead to reach their lofty preseason goals, the fans have been treated to a trio of feel-good stories that have made the first couple weeks of the season enjoyable.