The New York Yankees have not had many bright spots this spring. Injury has hit the club hard in almost every area and the Yankees bullpen has been no exception, especially the two left-handed pitchers in the bullpen, Clay Rapada and Boone Logan. However, those injuries allowed the Yankees to use Francisco Rondon a little more than originally planned and the soon-to-be-25-year-old lefty has responded with a 1.29 ERA and seven strikeouts in seven innings.
The Yankees, however, decided to turn Rondon into a starter and have assigned him to Double-A instead of keeping him as a relief option and assigning him to Triple-A. This is a huge mistake by the Yankees. If this off-season has shown the Yankees anything it is that their health is fragile. The three lefty relievers ahead of Rondon on the depth chart, Logan, Rapada and Cesar Cabral have all dealt with injury in one form or another this season. Logan looks healthy now but he was complaining of elbow pain after a career-high in appearances last season. Rapada will start the year on the disabled list and Cabral, a Rule V pick last year, is still recovering from Tommy John surgery and will start the season on the 60-day DL. Why would the Yankees take a pitcher who should have started the season as the primary backup for Logan if his elbow continues to bark and turn him into a starter?
This move makes even less sense when one looks at Rondon’s pitching profile. Rondon features two pitches, a fastball and slider and has a history of not being consistent in the strike zone. That hardly screams starter material. What’s worse is the fact that Rondon is going to be 25 April 19th and will essentially be repeating Double-A after spending the majority of last season in the Trenton Thunder bullpen. Rondon hasn’t started a game since he started 11 games for the Low-A Staten Island Yankees in 2009.
Could the Yankees be turning Rondon into a starter to build his innings up? Possibly. However, the question of why he would need to build up innings on his arm if he projects as a lefty specialist still prevails.
Earlier this spring I wrote about how the Yankees would be able to weather any injury to Boone Logan. That premise has taken a bit of a hit at the moment because of Rapada’s injury and the decision to move Rondon to the Thunder rotation. Josh Spence and Juan Cedeno look like they will start the year in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Railriders’ bullpen. There is also Pat Venditte, the switch-pitcher who figures to start the year in Triple-A as well. Spence has some MLB experience but I think Rondon has a better reliever profile than Spence at the moment.
Rondon gets his fastball up to 95 MPH with some good movement that, if properly harnessed, could be a useful weapon against left-handed hitters. Rondon, however, has had trouble against left-handed hitters and sometimes seems afraid to use his plus slider against them. Rondon is far from a perfect pitcher and certainly needs work. He only features three pitches with a change-up being his third but the change-up needs a lot of work. He has been trying to work on that pitch for six years now and has not gotten it to where it can be depended upon essentially making him a two-pitch pitcher. Two-pitch pitchers are usually bullpen pieces, not starters.
The good news is that the Yankees are not married to making Rondon a starter. It is very easy to take a pitcher out of the rotation and move him to the bullpen whereas it takes time to go the opposite route. The Yankees are an injury or two away from having to seriously consider Rondon as a bullpen option after his good spring. I think it would have made more sense to keep Rondon in the pen but maybe the Yankees think starting will allow Rondon to work on his consistency with his pitches. That is the only thing I can think of that makes some sense.