RALEIGH — All Carlos Rodon did as a freshman pitcher at N.C. State was go 9-0, be overpowering, help the Wolfpack to an NCAA Super Regional and become a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award.
But here’s the dilemma: when you win ’em all, how can you improve?
"That’s a tough question. I’ve never heard it worded that way," Rodon said, laughing.
The answer is simple enough. Win even more games as a sophomore, lower your earned-run average, be even more overpowering and pitch the Pack to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
"And the goal is not to get to Omaha," Rodon said. "The goal is to win the whole thing, the College World Series. That’s what we plan on doing and hopefully we go about it the right way."
For Wolfpack coach Elliott Avent, the right way is by focusing only on the game being played. For N.C. State, the season begins Friday against Appalachian State at Doak Field.
That’s the only game that matters. Omaha? That’s a long way off.
"Every time you look down the road you don’t get there," Avent said.
But Rodon, who will start the season opener, should give the Pack – ranked eighth nationally in preseason by Baseball America – a chance to be a national contender. The lefthander was as dominant and as any pitcher in the country last season and insists he can be better.
Hardly content, Rodon noted he had worked on his changeup in the fall.
"I’ve been throwing it pretty well lately," he said. "Hopefully it will be in the arsenal this year."
Last season, Rodon’s stuff was good enough to make him the first freshman to be named ACC pitcher of the year. A first-team All-America, he tied for third nationally with 135 strikeouts (in 114 2/3s innings) and his 1.57 ERA was fourth-best in the country.
"Once you step inside the lines I’m coming to beat you," said Rodon, an imposing sight on the mound at 6-3 and 234 pounds.
Rodon was the first freshman to be selected a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award, college baseball’s version of the Heisman Trophy. Florida catcher Mike Zunino was the 2012 winner.
"Mentally I improved a lot as a freshman," Rodon said. "Out of high school I considered myself more of a thrower. Now I’d say I know how to pitch. Just by playing one year you learn so much."
For the record, Rodon has not lost a game since his junior year at Holly Springs High, but realizes an "L" likely will come at some point in college.
"It’s going to hurt," he said. "It’s been a while but losing is a good thing."
"Because you learn from it," he said. "But winning is better. You have to hate to lose and love to win – that’s the way I look at it."
Rodon and Wolfpack infielder Trea Turner played for USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team last summer, going to Havana, Cuba, and then The Netherlands. Soon after that international experience, Rodon said he began to hear the whispers that he might transfer to a junior college.
If Rodon had been eligible for the Major League Baseball draft last year, he might have been the No. 1 pick. By playing NCAA Division I, he must wait until after his junior year to enter the draft. Leave for a junior college, however, and he could have changed that.
"I heard some stuff about junior college ... and I got asked that a lot," Rodon said. "But I never thought of it once. I didn’t even acknowledge them. I was 100 percent going back to school."
Rodon and Turner, who hit .336 and led the nation with 57 stolen bases last season, are preseason All-Americas for the Pack. While North Carolina is the preseason No. 1 pick in the Baseball America poll, the ACC coaches picked N.C. State to finish first in the league.
N.C. State hosted an NCAA regional last year, beating Vanderbilt with a late rally in the title game, before being eliminated by the Florida Gators, the No. 1 NCAA seed, in the Super Regional in Gainesville, Fla. A big step for the Wolfpack this year would be to host a Super Regional for the first time.
All in all, the bar is set pretty high – for Rodon, for the Pack.
"Expectations are nice but they really don’t mean anything until you get on that field and actually compete," Rodon said. "It’s nice to have those expectations. I’m looking forward to getting on the field and seeing how it actually plays out."