No. 3: Bruce Rondon, RHP
This may come as a minor upset to some who thought of Rondon as the #1 or #2 best prospect in our system. Well, you could flip him to #2 and I really wouldn't have a problem with it, but this is my list and I do what I want. Moving on, Rondon was signed as an international free agent out of (you guessed it) Venezuela. He made his professional debut for the Tigers' Venezuelan Summer League (VSL) team during the 2008 season at age 17. At that point he was being developed as a starter, so in his first pro season he made 13 starts over 55 1/3 innings, with a 3.58 ERA and 1.23 WHIP. Decent numbers, yes, but hardly eye-popping. In 2009, he was brought stateside to play with the GCL Tigers (rookie league), but after only 3 starts (11 1/3 IP, 4.76 ERA, 1.77 WHIP) he was sent back to the VSL to work on coming out of the bullpen and to work on some reported attitude issues. 2009 was somewhat of a lost season, considering Rondon was transitioning roles and only threw a combined 15 1/3 innings. In 2010, Rondon exploded onto the scene. He was again assigned to the GCL Tigers, but this time he stuck around. Working strictly as a reliever for the first time, Rondon threw 25 2/3 innings with the GCL posting a 0.70 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 9.1 K/9, and 4.9 BB/9. His performance earned him a promotion to Class A Advanced-Lakeland at the end of the season, where he logged 6 2/3 innings with a 1.35 ERA, giving up 2 hits, 2 walks, 1 earned run, and struck out 7. He earned a promotion to Class A-West Michigan for the 2011 season, where he spent the entire year. He had an excellent year in 2011, posting a 2.02 ERA across 40 innings, while striking out an astronomical 13.7 batters per 9 innings. He also walked an astronomical 7.6 batters per 9, which was the main reason for his 1.40 WHIP, but it was a dominating season nonetheless. Following his 2011 season, Rondon found himself skyrocketed up prospect rankings lists, as scouts finally caught a glimpse of an overpowering fastball and projectable secondaries. As we're all undoubtedly aware, Rondon spent 2012 across 3 levels (A+, AA, and AAA). Over those 3 levels, he accrued 53 innings with a 1.53 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 11.2 K/9, and 4.4 BB/9. He will be given every opportunity to win the closers' job for the Tigers in spring training, and certainly looks to be the Tigers closer of the future.
I wrote up a full, comprehensive scouting report on Rondon a few months ago that can be found here. He's a gigantic human being, checking in at 6'2" and in the 260lbs range. Whenever you see him listed at 190lbs, laugh and point, because that is incorrect. As we all know, his calling card is his fastball. It sits comfortably in the high-90's, and gets over 100 MPH consistently and with ease. What makes his fastball particularly dominating is the fact that it also has 80 movement. It bores in on the hands of right handed hitters to the point to where even if they are lucky enough to make contact, it's weak contact that comes with plenty of shattered bats. He also throws a slider and changeup, both of which offer solid projection. His slider has shown plus potential on several occasions, and sits in the above-average grading range consistently. It shows tight spin and late break, and when it's on, is a pitch that can easily miss bats and shows as an excellent complement to his fastball. Furthermore, and this is somewhat strange for single inning relievers, Rondon offers a changeup that also has above-average projection. He doesn't throw it as much as his slider, but when he does it shows good movement and excellent velocity differential, leading to yet another potential swing and miss pitch. Rondon's problem rests with his command and control, as I'm sure most are aware. He struggles to repeat his delivery, and I'm sure the excessive weight he carries doesn't help him with that. When you struggle to repeat your delivery, your command and control suffers. He improved his control in 2012, as evidenced by a low(er) BB/9 rate, and was definitely around the plate more. He also almost zero command, but to be honest, as a closer with the purely dominating stuff that Rondon offers, his command doesn't have to be very good. If he can control his stuff (remember, control and command are two different things), and just find the plate most of the time, his stuff is so dominant that it doesn't really matter where it's spotted.
Rondon's ceiling is that of a dominating, perennial all star closer. He has the ability to strike out anyone who steps into the batters box, and that includes the very best hitters in all of baseball. Of course, he'll probably have some issues with walks at one time or another, and even the best pitchers can get hit around from time to time. But that doesn't change the fact that Rondon shows the potential to be the true "shut down" closer that Tigers fans have been clamoring for since Matt Anderson was healthy.