Senior lefty Carlos Rodon was no doubt talented enough to warrant a high pick in this year’s Major League Baseball Draft, and his teammates knew that all year long.
After the Holly Springs baseball team won the 4-A state championship, some of Rodon’s own teammates came to him after the game with pens in hand. They wanted him to autograph their hats.
But Wednesday, Rodon spent several nerve-racking hours sitting on the edge of a living room chair listening with family members to his computer - the only place where that day’s draft was broadcasted - hoping to hear his name.
Hours passed. Rounds passed. Teams passed. His emotions wavered.
Twice he walked out the front door to answer the call of a major league team representative where he could find privacy and better cellphone service. Neither brief conversation led to an immediate selection.
He became antsy, twisting in his chair and seemingly never comfortable. He checked his phone repeatedly. By the fifth round, he needed to get his phone charger.
Anxiety then gave way to boredom. After nearly four hours of waiting, he drove his girlfriend back to her house.
It seemed odd that one of the nation’s top left-handed pitchers - on the college or high school level - with a 93 mph fastball and a refined command of his pitches, was getting passed over for so long. Rodon was not expected to fall past the fifth round, much less the 10th round, according to major league baseball pundits.
Instead, he was taken by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 16th round - almost five hours after the day’s draft began.
And the pick had nothing to do with ability.
It was a harsh lesson in the business of sports. Rodon, 18, has experienced a good bit of it in the past year and his biggest decision about his future is still undecided.
Naming the price
The MLB Draft is unlike other major sports. So, too, are the contracts.
Any high school player can be drafted to the major leagues. However, if the high school player does not sign with the team by the Aug. 15 deadline, he must play three years of NCAA baseball before being eligible for the draft again.
The major league teams will often sign their draft picks to a bonus based on what round it takes players and then assign them to the minor leagues.
Minor league players make anywhere from $850 to $2,150 per month, so the signing bonus is vital for players weighing the decision about where to spend the next three years - college or the minor leagues.
The Rodon family values the college experience and education. Pro scouts know how much it would take for Carlos to forgo his next three years at N.C. State.
“It would have to be, I guess, life-changing for him to make that jump. And he’s learned a lot from this process. Just going through all these interviews and people coming to our house, sitting in that chair and just interview after interview,” his mother Julie Rodon said. “(The business aspect) is rough, and he’s seen that.”
Teams knew where the Rodon family stood. And it’s why the No. 66 high school senior in the country, as rated by Baseball America, fell hundreds of picks. Players more easily swayed to sign - those with “signability,” as it is known in MLB circles - were taken earlier.
“(Signability) is pretty important,” Rodon said. “When you drop in the draft, you may be unsignable, but it’s not your fault though.”
The Brewers called Rodon near the beginning of the fourth round. They asked one final time if he would sign for the “slot money” - another major league draft construct.
Each round of the draft has a suggested signing bonus. In the compensation round - a half-sized round located between the first and second - the suggested bonus is about $750,000. That number drops to $200,000 in the fourth round, plummets to $80,000 in the eighth round and so on.
“You take the state taxes out of it, you take the income out of it and it’s nothing after six years,” said his father, Carlos Rodon Sr., about the late-round money.
To make it worth it for Rodon to skip college, his family suggested the offer would need to reach that $750,000 figure.
Rodon told Milwaukee he wouldn’t sign.
He received another call from a team in the 6th round - but refused to name them. He again wasn’t picked.
“If I end up going to play for the Brewers or going to play for N.C. State, it definitely motivates me,” Rodon said. “I want to show them that I’m worth what I said or that I’m not that 16th-rounder. I think I should be in the first-round caliber group and this is going to push me to work harder.”
The looming decision
Rodon knows that the Brewers could still offer a bigger bonus that would make it difficult to stick with college ball. After answering scouts’ questionnaires, phone calls and in-home interviews that started last summer, there isn’t much Rodon doesn’t know about the draft process by now.
Although 16th-round selections, unlike earlier rounds, actually have a maximum signing bonus of $125,000, teams can pay more with league approval.
Rodon has no timeline for when he would like to make a decision, saying the pressure is on the Brewers “to come up with a number.”
But while all these figures and business decisions are being made on each side, there’s more to what will lead Rodon to his destination.
“Money is a factor, but being away from home, it could be something different,” Rodon said. “And then not going to school - I’d like going to school and having that college experience and playing college baseball. That’s something pretty special.”
He said he realizes what would be expected of him if he gave up his amateur status to sign. “When you’re in college you still have that youth. But when you go play pro ball, you become a man. You have to start fresh, go on your own, provide for yourself, cook for yourself, wash your clothes,” Rodon said.
“And at N.C. State, I’d still have my youth. I’d be able to party, study and play ball with a great group of guys.”
After all the early-day frustration and nervousness, Rodon said he was excited to have heard his named called - a lifelong dream coming true, even if it was later than wanted.
In eight days, Rodon won a state title, got drafted and graduated. It helped drowned out the negatives from the business side of baseball.
By the end of summer, he’ll have to make the call on whether or not he wants to enter that business right out of high school.
And while his parents think college would be the best avenue for him at this point, they’ve also left the decision up to him.