Tigers Prospect Profile #2: Bruce Rondon

Tigers Prospect Profile #2: Bruce Rondon

Bruce Rondon entered spring camp the odds-on favorite to not just make the big league club, but nail down the role as being the Tigers' closer. Instead, he's headed back to Toledo. Where did things go wrong, and what does Rondon need to do to earn that spot in Detroit?

Bruce Rondon
Position: Right-handed Pitcher
Height: 6-2
Weight: 275
Born: 12/9/1990
Bats: Right
Throws: Right

Acquired: Amateur Free Agent, 2007
Ranking History: #42 (2009), #35 (2010), #33 (2011)

Background
The Tigers signed Rondon for a modest bonus in 2007 and slotted him into the VSL rotation in 2008. In 13 starts that year, Rondon posted a 3.58 ERA with 34 strikeouts and 20 walks in 58-1/3 innings.

The club brought him stateside for the 2009 season but after just three starts in the Gulf Coast League he was sent back to Venezuela for disciplinary reasons. Back in the VSL, Rondon posted a 13.50 ERA in three relief appearances.

Back in the states for the 2010 season, Rondon worked exclusively as a reliever, appearing in 24 games in the rookie-level GCL. In 25-2/3 innings, Rondon notched a 0.70 ERA and fanned 26 batters while picking up 15 saves. The Tigers rewarded his strong performance with a four-game showing in the High-A Florida State League where he struck out seven batters in just 6-2/3 innings.

In his true full-season debut with West Michigan in 2011, Rondon dominated his Midwest League counterparts. In 41 appearances, Rondon saved 19 games and posted a 2.02 ERA. In 40 innings, the 20-year old fire baller allowed only 22 hits and struck out 61.

Rondon came to camp in 2012 with a chance to cement his spot in the High-A Lakeland bullpen. He appeared in 22 games for the Flying Tigers with 1.93 ERA and a massive strikeout rate before he was promoted to Double-A. In 21 more appearances at Double-A Rondon cruised to a 0.83 ERA and more than a strikeout per inning.

The Tigers kept pushing him by sending him to Triple-A to close the year. He posted a 2.25 ERA in nine relief appearances with Toledo.

Scouting Report
Don't believe Rondon's listed weight. Even listed at a healthy 275 pounds, Rondon tips the scales at closer to three bills. While he is a beefy guy, he is also very muscular. Conditioning has been a problem for Rondon throughout his career and was at least part of the reason the Tigers sent him back to Venezuela in 2009.

Rondon has displayed some attitude problems throughout his career. He doesn't always want to work hard and at times he appears more concerned with radar gun readings than actually getting outs. When he is focused, he can display excellent competitiveness on the mound, hinting that he could fit well in the late inning role for which he is destined.

Rondon's meal ticket is his blazing fastball. The case can be made that Rondon has the most impressive fastball in the minor leagues. He regularly sits in the 97-100 mph range and I have seen him run it up to 102 mph on multiple occasions. The ball comes out of his hand easily and his fastball explodes on hitters as a result. As if the pure velocity wasn't enough, Rondon's heater also has tons of natural life, including some boring action in on right-handed hitters.

On top of the velocity and movement, Rondon will vary his arm angle, though not always because he is trying to do so. I have seen Rondon run his fastball up to 96-97 mph from a near side-arm slot but he is far more effective when working in the low-3/4 range.

For all the glowing praise heaped on Rondon's fastball, the pitch isn't always as effective as it should be. He lacks even modest control and has no discernible hint of command. Such inconsistencies will likely always plague Rondon but he could get to a point where he can throw strikes most of the time, allowing his fastball to maintain near maximum effectiveness.

Rondon will throw both a slider and changeup during his outings, though sometimes he has to be coaxed into getting away from the fastball and changing the pace a little bit. His changeup is a better pitch right now and projects as an average offering with some sink and good arm-speed deception.

On occasion, Rondon will snap off a quality slider that looks the part of a solid-average breaking ball. More often he gets around the ball instead of staying on top of it, causing it to get loose and lose the sharp break necessary to consistently miss bats. If he commits to throwing his slider more, Rondon could add a third average pitch.

Rondon has the aggressive mentality, 80-grade fastball and the potential for a decent second pitch that could combine to make him a deadly late inning reliever. With only modest improvement in his ability to throw strikes, Rondon could be ready to close games at the big league level.

Performance

Level

Team

W-L

ERA

G

GS

SV

SO

BB

IP

BAA

A+

Lakeland

1-0

1.93

22

0

15

34

10

23.1

.152

AA

Erie

0-1

0.83

21

0

12

23

9

21.2

.195

AAA

Toledo

1-0

2.25

9

0

2

9

7

8.0

.167


Health Record
Rondon has not had any health problems during his professional career. His arm has held up well to the rigors of the bullpen and his early trials pitching on back-to-back days have been well received physically. Rondon will always need to focus on his conditioning to make sure it doesn't get out of hand and become more of a problem than it already is.

Projection
The Tigers gave Rondon a chance to seize the big league closer's job this spring and his control proved to be too poor and he was sent back to Toledo to polish his game. Rondon is nearly big league ready and has all the ingredients to dominate at the end of games. If Rondon commits to sharpening his secondary pitches and works to throw just a few more strikes, he could be one of the most dominating relievers in the game.

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