With Nick Castellanos dominating high A ball this season in Lakeland, he has dominated the talk of the minor league system for the Tigers, and rightfully so. Especially considering the system now is without it’s 2nd and 3rd best prospects at the All-Star break in Jacob Turner and Rob Brantly. The Tigers have had other guys emerge however in the field. Avisail Garcia, Steven Moya, and Eugenio Suarez all have taken steps forward. The pitching staff however is another story. Andy Oliver, Casey Crosby, and Alex Burgos have all struggled in 2012. Brenny Paulino hasn’t thrown a pitch. One hurler that has emerged however is fire-baller Bruce Rondon.
Rondon just one year ago was in low A ball struggling with command to the tune of walking 7.6 batters for every 9 innings. In 2012, the much improved Rondon has made his way to Toledo, and could be on the verge of a call up at some point if the Tigers feel like he could help them down the stretch. With Joaquin Benoit, Phil Coke, and now Brayan Villarreal struggling in his last couple outings, the idea of bringing up Rondon is becoming less far-fetched by the day. Not necessarily to work the late innings, but to be a viable option to get a strikeout in the 6th and 7th when needed.
The big improvement in Rondon has been his control. I will never use the word command with Rondon, because it just doesn’t exist, and it likely never will. His mechanics are still rough and he doesn’t repeat them well (although better) which won’t ever allow him to have the kind of control he can bring to the mound on a nightly basis. What he lacks in command though, he makes up for in pure stuff.
Rondon regularly reaches triple digits with his fastball, and what makes it really good is that it isn’t particularly straight either. Having “scouted” Rondon several times in person, I always felt like he basically cranks it up and lets it fly. Sloppy is the word that I’ve used to describe him on more than one occasion, both in his physical fitness and his mechanics. There is little added to the art of pitching when Rondon is involved. It’s effective though. His fastball gets on top of hitters in a hurry, often moving in on hitters hands before they know what hit them. Because Rondon doesn’t even know where the ball is going, hitters can’t exactly dig in and get quality hacks either. Rondon also throws a change up, which comes in around 90 mph, and a slider that at times looks like an above average pitch.
2012 is just part of a journey that started off kind of rough for Rondon. In 2009, Rondon came stateside to pitch for the Gulf Coast League Tigers, only to be sent home because of maturity issues. In 2010 he came back, still not known to be the hardest worker in the world, but he dominated the competition in 2010 sporting an ERA of 0.84 between the GCL Tigers and Lakeland. 2011 brought much of the same, still some issues with work ethic and command, but the talent was undeniable once again. Rondon posted a 2.02 ERA as West Michigan’s closer last year, striking out 60 batters in 47 innings.
Word is 2012 has brought a stronger personal commitment by Rondon himself, which is understandable considering he is still just 21 years old. He wouldn’t be the first player that had some growing up to do, and had to learn what it takes to be a professional. Placed in Lakeland, Rondon has been dominant in 2012 from the beginning, earning himself a mid-season promotion to Erie. After continuing his dominance there, Rondon has now made it to Toledo, and is right on the doorstep of the big leagues. Through three levels this season, Rondon has posted an ERA of 1.34 while striking out 11.5/9, and walking just 3.8/9. That is still too many walks, but for a guy with his overpowering stuff, it’s a livable number. Not to mention it’s half of what he was walking just last season.
Relievers of course are a fickle commodity. There are often fluctuations from one year to the next, so hopefully the improvements in Rondon’s control are real. If they are, he has the potential to be a dominating closer in the major leagues for years to come. I don’t think we are even talking next year, but as soon as 2014, fans could be getting a glimpse of their future closer in September.