The duo of Detoit Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski and manager Jim Leyland hasn’t shied away from giving young pitchers a chance to make an impact with the team before, if the situation warranted it – just ask Rick Porcello and former closer-in-waiting Ryan Perry.
Well, such a situation has developed in the upcoming season, with the team needing a new closer after letting human roller-coaster Jose Valverde loose in free agency.
The solution? 22-year old top pitching prospect Bruce Rondon, who will be right in the mix to take over the Tigers’ ninth inning in 2013. Dombrowski did not go as far as simply anointing the righty as the team’s closer, although he was certainly not short on praise for the big 265-pound righty with potentially the biggest arm on the team’s bullpen.
“We hope he wins the job in spring training. I think, in my opinion, he’ll handle it fine.” Those were the GM’s words, and if that doesn’t sound like an inside track in Spring Training, I don’t know what does. The team will be prepared to go with a closer-by-committee if Rondon ends up imploding in the spring, but the team has placed a lot of faith in his development over 2012, especially as it pertains to his secondary pitches.
Although, as Dombrowski says, the primary reason why he will be the favourite is because “his fastball is so good it gets all the play.” What he’s referring to, of course, is the young righty’s blistering fastball, which he aggressively attacks hitters with at speeds consistently in the triple-digits, and as high as 104 mph.
That’s the kind of head-turning number on the radar guns that hasn’t really been seen around the Tigers bullpen since Joel Zumaya was around, and the team certainly hopes that this hard-thrower’s career goes a little more smoothly.
It has so far, as Rondon has zipped through the minors, tearing through three levels in 2012 with a combined 1.52 ERA over 53 innings, striking out batters at a 11.9 K/9 rate and recording 29 saves in the process. His 4.4 BB/9 may be a concern as he takes on the majors in his first time, but the Tigers are hoping that the stuff will be good enough to carry him through.
There’s the optimistic hope among the organization that the rookie will make a Craig Kimbrel-like impact on the AL Central favourites, and though that’s probably too much of a stretch, it would not be surprising to see Rondon have a season like Jordan Walden‘s first full season, in which he emerged as a 32-save closer with a 2.98 ERA, even if consistency was an issue from time to time.
Similar ups-and-downs are to be expected for the prospective closer, but he fits exactly what teams in the league look for in a prototypical closer. If Rondon’s slider and change-up have improved the way the team thinks, the rookie might just tear through the majors in 2013 as he did in the minors.