â€‹1. Bruce Rondon, Tigers
Bruce Rondon is a reliever for the Toledo Mudhens, the Tigers’ Triple-A affiliate. Bruce Rondon is also a very big boy. His behind alone is capable of blocking several small children from view.
The funniest thing about Rondon’s size is that he’s listed at 6’2”, 190. You know what other pitcher is listed at 6’2”, 190? Zack Greinke. Let’s compare views from the center-field camera in each pitcher’s latest outing:
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
Considering they are in a pennant race for the first time since 1997 and haven't been to the postseason—or had a winning season—since 1992, I believe the Pirates should pull out the stops in an effort to win now. General manager Neal Huntington, nice guy that he is, patronizes me by listening to my free advice but rarely follows it. Alas, the Pirates are highly unlikely to call up right-hander Gerrit Cole, the top pick in last year's amateur draft, from Double-A Altoona to add a power arm to the bullpen for the stretch drive. Huntington believes such a move would do nothing to help Cole's development.
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
This season has been a window into the amazing young talent in the game. Bryce Harper, 19, and Mike Trout, 21, have been the centerpieces of that window. Harper has had a tougher time of late, but Trout has a legitimate case for AL MVP. Are there other players about that age who can succeed at the major-league level? Sure! Manny Machado was born on July 6, 1992. Twenty years, a month, and three days later, he made his major-league debut with the Orioles. He tripled and then homered twice in his second game. OK, so put him in the Hall of Fame. Who's next?
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
Oscar Taveras has thoroughly dominated over the last season-plus in the Midwest and Texas Leagues (.348/.408/.575) and could be ready to contribute down the stretch as the Cardinals push for a playoff spot. Despite having turned 20 just months ago, Taveras has demonstrated an uncanny ability to square up pitches and make consistent hard contact. He hasn't skipped a beat despite skipping a level on the player development ladder, and he should be a challenger for regular playing time in St. Louis next spring. But why wait six months to see what the kid can do against big-league pitching? Promoting Taveras in September would make giving rest to veterans Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran more palatable, and he could emerge as a viable weapon off the bench in October. —Bradley Ankrom
5. Billy Hamilton, Reds
The Reds have the second-best record in baseball, and they lead the National League Central. They also have one of the most exciting prospects in baseball pursuing the single-season minor-league stolen-base record with Double-A Pensacola. Billy Hamilton had stolen 139 bases going into Tuesday night's game. He is the fastest player in baseball, and he has made strides to the rest of his game this year. His exciting play and solid numbers have prompted questions about whether he'll be called up this year. Prior to the weekend, Reds manager Dusty Baker confirmed that a September call-up for Hamilton is a possibility. It remains to be seen if a call-up comes to fruition, but if it does, baseball fans will be treated to a player that is capable of changing the game with top-flight speed on the bases. I, for one, look forward to seeing the fastest man in baseball on the biggest stage, and I'm quite sure I'm not alone. —Josh Shepardson
6. Jurickson Profar, Rangers
The race for the AL West crown isn't looking as murky as it was last week—the Angels' bullpen has seen to that—but as we've seen, improbable comebacks can be mounted in the last month-plus of the season. If the Rangers want to slam the door on the Athletics and Angels, calling up Jurickson Profar should be a priority. The 19-year-old switch-hitter skipped High-A this season, but his stats don't reflect the missed step; he's batting .285/.363/.470 for Frisco.
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
â€‹7. Dylan Bundy, Orioles
On Tuesday night, Jim Thome was in Bowie, MD. He wasn’t there on a rehab assignment with the Orioles’ Double-A team. Nor was he there to sign autographs (although he did—for literally everyone who stopped by his seat six rows behind home plate—because he's Jim Thome). No, Thome was there as an emissary of the Orioles’ front office to see the Double-A debut of 2011 first-round pick Dylan Bundy.
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