USA TODAY Sports
Sure he's barely pitched above Double A. But that didn't stop the Tigers from tabbing Bruce Rondon as closer-in-waiting. Is he ready for that kind of pressure? Spring training should help us find out.
This story probably carries the most weight of the spring. First off, we'd be interested in Bruce Rondon anyway. He's a 22-year-old kid who throws fire and quickly rose through the Tigers' minor-league ranks as a closer. He even made an eye-catching appearance in the Futures Game. We'd be interested in him if he was in the running for seventh inning action. But no. He's dubbed by some as the front-runner for the bullpen's closer role.
We'd be pretty darn interested in a closer competition by itself too. Now you combine a rookie with little experience above Double A with the closer role of a team that is tabbed to go to the World Series, and you've got Las Vegas lights flashing above the story.
Leyland doesn't care about the age thing. He's been there before. He just likes talent. And Rondon has the talent. But does he have the makeup? We shall see.
The tough part is figuring out if the Tigers made a mistake or not by talking him up so much this offseason. He could have "won" the closer role with a good spring without so much emphasis being placed on him. Now, if he fails to earn the spot, he'll be seen as "losing" the role instead. But maybe the entire episode was conceived as a test to see if he's ready..
f Rondon does pass the test and survive the scrutiny, look out. He could be the talk of baseball and we'll be among the first to see him climb to stardom. If he fails, however, the Tigers will have to go by committee or keep their eyes open for a veteran who becomes available via trade.
Around here, we always caution not to put so much emphasis on the closer. He's not the only guy in the bullpen who is often subjected to high-leverage, no-safety moments in a game. Still, it's important to have a handful of relievers you can trust, and that includes your team's closer.
The question of closer might not be the most important question that will be answered during the next six weeks or so, but it might just be the most scrutinized one.