This is the only picture of Rondon that we have. Get used to it. - Denny Medley-US PRESSWIRE
Bruce Rondon might have the most electric arm in the Tigers organization -- yeah, even over you-know-who -- but can he find the command to be effective?
Well, this should be fun. There's nothing like throwing out a bold prediction such as the above title to see what kind of response you get. And before you accuse me of troll-baiting, remember that I have held this stance for the entire offseason. Let's look at why Bruce Rondon won't be the horrible reliever that most "sky is falling" Tigers fans -- as well as some national writers -- seem to think.
What happened last season?
Rondon made a combined 52 appearances between three minor league levels, racking up a ridiculous 66 strikeouts in the process. He also lowered his walk rate by more than a batter per 9 innings from 2011 to 2012, something that our very own prospect wizard, Brian Sakowski, pointed out in his scouting report of Rondon. He then concluded with this bit:
Despite his lack of control/command and his reported makeup concerns, Rondon is still one of the few absolutely dynamic shutdown closer prospects in baseball, simply due to his raw stuff. Very, very few relievers have 3 average pitches, while Rondon has the potential for 3 above average to plus pitches, with his fastball being among the, if not THE best fastball in the game.
The fastball is already bananas, clocking as high as 102 mph in the Futures All-Star Game last season. The slider needs work, mostly in terms of control. The changeup, however, can be a game-changer this year if he is able to use it effectively to keep hitters off balance.
What needs to happen in 2013?
It's tough to see Rondon maintaining an 11.21 strikeouts per 9 innings rate in the major leagues in 2013, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him punch out at least a batter per inning based on the type of stuff he has. While some major leaguers are able to catch up with 100+ mile per hour pitching, very few are able to handle that type of velocity with movement. If he can mix in a breaking pitch or changeup that stays within the same neighborhood as the strike zone, he shouldn't have an issue racking up strikeouts.
The only area where Rondon can get into trouble is with his command, something that everyone and their mother is aware of. It's anyone's guess how he will adapt to the major leagues in 2013, but one thing is for certain: Rondon will need to keep things within the strike zone to get guys out. Major league hitters will make Rondon throw strikes.
2012 minor league stats and 2013 ZiPS projections
The part where I learned to stop worrying and love the Tigers bullpen
Saber-heads will scoff at this notion, but I think that most fans are overlooking a huge piece of evidence when projecting Rondon's 2013 season: pitching coach Jeff Jones. While we can't be certain at how big of a role Jones has played in the quick turnarounds we have seen from Tigers pitchers over the past couple years -- especially Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez in 2012 -- I think that Jones will be able to get Rondon's mechanics on track. Rondon has the kind of stuff that doesn't require pinpoint command; he just needs to get it into the strike zone. If he can do that consistently, I think he will be fine.