August 15, 2012
The Lineup Card
Seven Prospects We Want to See in the Pennant Race
1. Bruce Rondon, Tigers
The images aren’t perfectly aligned, of course, but you can probably tell that those two people aren’t the same size. Rondon doesn’t weigh 190, although Jason Parks recently speculated that one of his thighs might. Kevin Goldstein estimated that with both thighs on the scale, Rondon might actually tip it at 270. During Rondon’s relief appearance last Saturday, Toledo’s TV announcer rounded up, calling him “twice the weight” of Will Rhymes, who’s listed at 155.
Sometimes listed weights are silly. But it’s okay that Rondon isn’t anywhere near 190. If he were, he wouldn’t throw as hard as he does. The 21-year-old has no trouble touching triple digits: Kevin reported that all four pitches Rondon threw in the Futures Game were clocked at either 101 or 102 miles per hour. He also has a decent slider and changeup, which prevents hitters from looking solely for the fastball. Best of all, he’s figured out how to throw strikes, or at least how to throw balls a little less often. The righty walked nearly eight A-ball batters per nine innings in 40 frames last season, but he’s walked only 3.8 across three levels in 2012. As a result, he’s only one level away from the majors.
While Rondon’s impact on the pennant race won’t be as outsized as his physique, he could make a difference to Detroit in the AL Central, where the Tigers trail the White Sox by only two games. The Tigers’ relief corps has posted the second-highest ERA of any AL contender’s, and while it’s on the southpaw side that they could most use reinforcements, it wouldn’t hurt to have another hard-throwing righty to add to the bullpen behind Joaquin Benoit and Octavio Dotel.
Rondon isn't on the 40-man roster, but if he can come up and establish himself in September, it’s not inconceivable that he could be closing as soon as next season, assuming impending free agent Jose Valverde heads elsewhere. His shaky control might lead to some Valverde-like outings, but if there is such a thing as a closer mentality, Rondon has it. According to Mudhens manager Phil Nevin, “he wants the ninth.” Rondon’s latest save opportunity lasted only one pitch, as he was ejected after throwing behind Rhymes, who had admired a home run a little too long earlier in the game.
With that one errant offering, Rondon showed that he wasn’t intimidated by the prospect of facing a fringy former major leaguer. Before long, he might have a chance to face some of the best batters in the big leagues. —Ben Lindbergh
2. Gerrit Cole, Pirates
While I concede Cole is a starter and that's his future, I'd love to see the Pirates unleash him for an inning at a team in the major leagues in September to see if he could make an impact on the pennant race with his explosive fastball and sharp-breaking slider. Think of Francisco Rodriguez becoming the sensation known as K-Rod with the 2002 Angels, or David Price getting big October outs for the 2008 Rays, as two rookies who made a big splash of the bullpen in recent years. Sadly, though, it looks like we won't ever be thinking back to Gerrit Cole with the 2012 Pirates. —John Perrotto
3. Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox
How about Red Sox prospect Xander Bogaerts? Bogaerts is a shortstop (for now), like Machado. Also like Machado, he's 20-years-old. Actually, he’s four months. Bogaerts is a highly-regarded prospect, and the only five-star prospect on Kevin Goldstein’s Red Sox Top 11 list this past offseason. Bogaerts justified that ranking by hitting .302/.378/.505 for High-A Salem in the Carolina League. Last week, the Red Sox moved him up to Double-A Portland, where, as of this writing, he has six hits, including two doubles and a homer in three games.
The Red Sox aren't mathematically out of contention, but lingering issues with David Ortiz's Achilles and Will Middlebrooks’ broken wrist make already scary math even less favorable. The Red Sox have Mike Aviles at shortstop now, but he’s not the team’s shortstop of the future. I won’t make the case that calling Bogaerts up now is what is best for his career, but it sure would be fun to see what the kid could do over the last month of the season. It would give a dash of hope and excitement to a team that is increasingly aware it’s only playing out the string. —Matthew Kory
4. Oscar Taveras, Cardinals
5. Billy Hamilton, Reds
6. Jurickson Profar, Rangers
What makes Profar's season particularly notable is his power display. Prior to the season, scouts were divided about Profar's power potential, with some forecasting him for gap power, while others believed him capable of generating 20-plus homers. Profar has 46 extra-base hits so far, including 14 homers, making it look like that he will be closer to that 20-homer plateau as he fills out. Instead of giving Michael Young and his .269/.300/.343 line regular playing time, why not give some at-bats to Profar? Elvis Andrus won't be Texas' long-term shortstop, and it's unlikely the Rangers would move him, but they could slide Profar over to the keystone to share time with Ian Kinsler. An extra bat is a handy thing to carry, and the Rangers would do well to make room for a five-tool talent who will play a huge role in the franchise's future. —Stephani Bee
7. Dylan Bundy, Orioles
While Bundy’s entry in the box score wasn't scintillating (5.1 IP, 3R, 3BB, 3K, 96 pitches, 56 strikes), when Thome left with the Orioles’ brass in the middle of the fourth, he'd likely seen enough of Bundy to know that he really could help the Orioles in September.
Bundy's first two innings of work were his sharpest, but he also showed a very good feel for his changeup, a pitch the Orioles have emphasized that he throw for the sake of his development. He worked down in the zone, had good movement on his fastball (tricking the home-plate ump more than you'd like to see at any level), flashed a strong breaking ball, and may have even tossed in a cutter (his best pitch in high school, which he's been told to hold off throwing to command his other pitches.) I don't want to get the kid in trouble, but, if the second-to-last pitch he threw before Thome left was a cutter, well then, holy hell, it was the best pitch he threw all night.
Rick Peterson has been slowly building Bundy’s pitch and inning count with the idea that Bundy would throw 120 innings or so this season. Here's the thing: after his start last night, Bundy sits at 89.2 IP. He has three starts left with Bowie, meaning he could have somewhere between 15 and 25 innings available to him in September when the minor-league season is over.
While he may not be ready to stare down a major-league lineup three times through, in short bursts, as a multi-inning reliever, he'd more than hold his own. Baltimore has already showed the stones to call up Manny Machado, so why, with innings to play with, wouldn't they consider it with Bundy?
A month ago, that would have seemed crazy. Now, well, it's no crazier than the Orioles leading the AL Wild Card race. In fact, with the blessing of the future Hall of Famer, maybe Bundy will be on the field at Camden Yards before Thome.
(As an aside, Nick Castellanos from Erie was also in this game and went 0-3 against Bundy. He flew out twice to the warning track and struck out. He can hit a fastball, played a passable RF, and could see some September time in Detroit. While the 20-year-old was 0-for-7 with three strikeouts overall in the doubleheader, he can hit a fastball. He might also benefit from some big-league spreads, because he's still really thin.) —Mike Ferrin