Position: Right-handed Pitcher
Though Rondon wasn't an extreme high priority guy during the 2007 international signing period, the Tigers were hot on him, and inked him to a deal in September of that year. He got his first taste of pro ball with a stint in the Venezuelan Parallel League in 2007, before making his official pro debut in the VSL in 2008.
The then 17-year old Rondon tied for fifth in the league with 13 starts, including one complete game. He finished with a 3.58 ERA in 55 1/3 innings his first year, allowing only 48 hits and striking out 34.
The Tigers quickly brought the burly right-hander stateside for spring training in 2009. After making three starts in the Gulf Coast League, Rondon was sent back to Venezuela for the remainder of the year. In three relief appearances in the VSL, Rondon was knocked around for six runs on five hits and seven walks in just four innings.
The Tigers gave him another shot in the states during spring training 2010, and he ran with the opportunity for the remainder of the year. Rondon was a dynamic closer for the Tigers GCL affiliate, notching 15 saves and a 0.70 ERA in 24 appearances. He allowed just eleven hits in 25 2/3 innings of work and struck out 26, though he did walk 14.
A late season chance with High-A Lakeland didn't prove to be much more of a challenge for Rondon as he collected two more saves in four relief appearances and finished with a 1.35 ERA and seven strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings.
The way Rondon gets things done has changed dramatically over the last year. After pitching from a very conventional arm slot in the past, the Tigers worked with him to drop him to a legitimate side-arm angle prior to the 2010 season, as he moved into a relief role exclusively. He was still able to maintain his plus to plus-plus velocity from that angle.
His fastball works at 91-93 and regularly hits 95 during short outings. There have been some reports of him being as high as 97 on the gun, but those have been few and far between from scouts. He gets good boring action on his fastball. Rondon doesn't command his fastball well, and often struggles to throw strikes.
His slider is a an above-average pitch with good bite, and it could be a plus pitch if he can harness it more and stay on top of it consistently. From his new arm angle, he has a tendency to get under his breaking ball, causing it to flatten out and lose effectiveness.
Rondon was sent back to the VSL in 2009 as a means to get him on track and start taking his profession more seriously. His listed weight of 200 pounds may be on the light side, and he will have to work to keep that in check as he continues to mature physically.
There is a lot for Rondon to learn with respect to the finer points of being a pitcher, including fielding his position and holding runners, but that should come with continued experience.
When he is throwing strikes with his fastball, Rondon shows a willingness to attack hitters and make them hit his best stuff. Unfortunately, that ability to throw strikes comes and goes frequently. If he can improve his command and control, and consistently stay on top of his slider, he has the potential to be a good setup reliever or possibly even a closer.
Performance Level Team W-L ERA G GS SV SO BB IP AVG R
Rondon has not had any history of injury in his three year pro career. He is well built and should be durable; though he will have to keep his weight in check and make sure it does not hinder his ability on the mound.
Rondon is the odds on favorite to be the regular closer in West Michigan in 2011, and if his very brief trial in Lakeland is any indication, he should fare pretty well in his full-season debut. He has the raw stuff to be a very good reliever, but he has to demonstrate an improved commitment to the game and his craft, including maintaining his weight going forward.
The success rate for rookie-league closers isn't particularly high, but Rondon may be a unique case. He is a niche or specialty pitcher that has serious late inning stuff. That is not a combination you see very often, and that may give him an advantage over most exclusive reliever from rookie ball.
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