Position: Right-handed Pitcher
Rondon signed with the Tigers in September 2007, making his official professional debut in the Venezuelan Summer League in 2008. In his first taste of pro ball, Rondon worked as a starter, posting a 3.58 ERA in 13 starts.
The Tigers originally brought Rondon Stateside for the 2009 season but he was sent back to the VSL when the Tigers did not feel he showed the discipline and work ethic necessary to merit such a move. Before being sent back to Venezuela, Rondon posted a 4.76 ERA in three starts. His numbers didn't improve once he started pitching in the VSL that summer as he posted a 13.50 ERA in three relief outings.
Back stateside for the 2010 season, Rondon took off in a relief role. At just 19-years old, Rondon allowed only eleven hits in 25 2/3 innings while allowing 15 walks and striking out 26 hitters. All that totaled to a 0.70 ERA and 0.97 WHIP in 24 games.
The Tigers rewarded his impressive season with a brief stint in High-A where he posted a 1.35 ERA in four appearances. He again struck out better than a batter per inning (seven in 6 2/3 innings) and yielded just two hits and two walks.
The Tigers slowed his progression in 2011, sending him to West Michigan where he would spend the entire season. Rondon dominated yet again with a 2.02 ERA in 41 games for the Whitecaps. In 40 innings he allowed only 22 hits, walked 34 and struck out 61 batters. His 19 total saves tied for third in the Midwest League.
Rondon is a behemoth of a man. His listed weight of 260 pounds is very likely a gross underestimate and he could easily be pushing three bills. Work on maintaining his conditioning has been an issue since his signing and even with improvements he remains an out of shape, overweight guy.
His weight has likely impacted his ability to control the baseball. He struggles to repeat his delivery and has a very hard time throwing strikes with any regularity. There are numerous scouts I spoke with that believe his control will be a major issue until his size gets under control.
For all of his conditioning and control issues, Rondon brings an extremely impressive fastball to the table. He saw in the 96-98 mph range in 2011 and regularly touched 100 mph throughout the season. He has good sink when he works down in the zone and when he elevates his ball seems to have some extra hop to it.
Rondon also throws a slider that shows solid potential. Though the pitch is very inconsistent, when he has it working it shows at least solid-average two-plane break and will flash as a plus pitch.
Hitters have an even tougher time hitting Rondon because he doesn't fire his 80-grade fastball from a typical arm angle. Rondon will work from a very low-three quarter slot and even consistently work from a true side-arm angle. He can be absolute murder on right-handed hitters and even left-handers have trouble because of his shear velocity.
Despite all the inconsistencies in Rondon's game it is impossible to ignore the dominating stuff he brings to the table. Rondon has the raw stuff to be a filthy closer at the big league level but his inability to throw strikes regularly could hinder his development significantly.
Performance Level Team W-L ERA G GS SV SO BB IP WHIP A
Rondon's arm has been healthy throughout his career. As addressed above, his conditioning is a serious concern and something that will be watched very carefully by scouts and talent evaluators.
Barring a big step forward in spring training, Rondon is likely headed for High-A Lakeland to start the year. If he continues to dominate the lower levels, even with control issues, the Tigers could be forced to promote him as part of his developmental process. Rondon is unlikely to face a significant test until advanced hitters demonstrate that they will lay off his pitches outside the strike zone, leaving him to walk several batters an inning.
Even though Rondon has a good chance to see time in Double-A this summer, that move may not actually alter his ETA in Detroit. Rondon will probably need the better part of two or three years to develop mentally and truly get a handle on his incredible raw stuff.
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