April 23, 2013
The Situation: In need of an impact arm in the late innings, the Tigers called up a legit intimidator out of the bullpen in Bruce Rondon, who should add a much-needed bat misser to the relief equation.
Background: Signed as an international free agent out of Venezuela in 2007, Rondon’s developmental progress has been slow and steady since moving to the bullpen full time in 2010. The following season was the big step forward, as the big-bodied pitcher was unhittable in the Midwest League, missing 61 bats in 40 innings of relief. His biggest hurdle was command, as he allowed more walks than hits. The command improved in 2012, and the fastball continued to miss barrels at a high clip as he climbed the professional ladder. Before the start of the 2013 season, Rondon was ranked as the no. 3 prospect in the Tigers org, and barely missed inclusion on the BP 101. After a hot start to the season, the opportunity for major league advancement opened up and the 22-year-old is ready to walk through the door, which should turn into a permanent role at the highest level.
Scouting Report: Rondon will live and die with the fastball, a near elite offering that explodes on hitters in the upper 90s and can touch over 100 mph. Along with the 80-grade velocity, the pitch also features well above average life, with late arm-side run that is extremely difficult to track and square up. When the command is on, Rondon can ride the fastball into the sunset, but he has more in the bag than just one pitch. His changeup isn’t special, but when the fastball is on and hitters are forced to cheat to stay with it, the changeup becomes a very effective pitch. Thrown with good arm speed, the pitch plays well off the fastball despite not having great action, and can get hitters on the front foot. He can back up both pitches with a fringe-average slider, but its not a consistent bat misser. Because of a max effort delivery and inconsistent arm slots, Rondon not only struggles with command but with secondary utility. The violence in the delivery and the slot variations can work for him, keeping hitters off balance and unsure in the box, but they can also work against him when it comes to staying over the ball and finishing his pitches. The command is never going to be sharp, but the fastball is powerful enough to live in the zone, so basic control (throwing strikes) will allow him to find success.
Immediate Big League future: Rondon is going to shove it right out of the gate on the strength of the fastball, but his long-term future will depend on his ability to throw that pitch for strikes and use the secondary arsenal to keep hitters off balance. He’s an intimidating presence on the mound, with thighs the size of Jose Altuve, a fastball that can hit 102 mph, and a disposition that suggests domination, so he has a chance to stick around for a very long time. He’s a future closer, and the velocity and late-innings mentality could make him a very good one. He’s not a finished product and the command and secondary arsenal need refinement, but the arm strength is top of the line and the fastball is fun to watch. Get your radar guns out. –Jason Parks
Fantasy Impact: For all of the flack the Tigers bullpen has gotten so far this year, you'd think they were bordering on historically terrible. However, despite a 4.53 ERA, they rank second in both strikeout rate (29.8 percent) and FIP (2.68). Unfortunately for them, they also rank first in walk rate (12.2 percent) and adding Bruce Rondon to the mix is probably not going to help them bring that number down. However, it's been relatively clear since spring training that Jim Leyland wants Rondon to be successful enough to put in the closer's role. And given the role uncertainty that currently exists in the Tigers bullpen, it may only take a string of three of four solid outings before he gets that chance--especially considering the success he's had to start the year in Triple-A (0.00 ERA, nine strikeouts and two walks in seven innings).
Jason Parks is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @ProfessorParks