Jose Valverde’s struggles during the 2012 postseason (nine earned runs allowed in 2.2 innings pitched) and his impending free agent status is dictating a change of the guard in the ninth-inning role for the Detroit Tigers for 2013. The Tigers still have some recognizable names left in their bullpen for next season, including Phil Coke, Octavio Dotel, Al Alburquerque and Joaquin Benoit, but a name that Tigers’ fans and fantasy baseball owners are likely not familiar with will reportedly be given a legit chance to become Detroit’s closer next spring.
Bruce Rondon had an excellent 2012 season, posting a 1.53 ERA, 29 saves and an 11.2 K/9 rate through three levels of the Tigers’ minor league system. Through five minor league seasons, including some time in the Venezuelan Summer League in 2008 and 2009, he has a 2.53 ERA and 65 saves along with a 9.8 K/9 rate over 140 appearances (196 innings). He did make 13 starts as a 17-year old in 2008, but he has not made any starts at all since 2009 as he has transitioned to being a reliever. Control has been an issue for the soon to be 22-year old though, as he walked 26 batters in 53 innings last season and has a 5.1 BB/9 rate during his career. Rondon has yet to pitch in the big leagues, but the Tigers have purchased his contract from their Triple-A affiliate and that likely means they intend to have him on their Opening Day roster next season.
The competition for the closer role in the Detroit bullpen will be worth the attention of fantasy owners during spring training, as Valverde and his 110 saves in the role over the past three seasons will be elsewhere barring something unforeseen. The Tigers have said they are not interested in any free agent closer, with Rafael Soriano being the top name mentioned to this point, so for now Rondon’s fantasy stock is rising and he has the look of a legit sleeper for 2013 at this early stage.