Bruce Rondon: Tigers Closer in 2013?

Denny Medley-US PRESSWIRE

Ray Guilfoyle takes a look at the possibility that the Tigers may hand their 2013 closer job to a hard throwing AAA reliever.

Earlier this offseason, there was talk that the Tigers may hand their 2013 closer job to AAA closer Bruce Rondon. I admit, when I first heard that talk, I thought the Tigers were putting that out there as a precursor to talks with Rafael Soriano's agent Scott Boras. Soriano, for me, is a perfect fit for the Tigers as they are built to win now and have a need for an established closer. Soriano has pitched in many big ball games for the New York Yankees over the last two seasons, saving 42 games after Mariano Rivera went down with the knee injury in 2012. Soriano finished the season with a low 2.00 ERA and a strikeout rate just above 9.00.

Here are some quotes from Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski, via Chris Lott from MLive.com, which support the recent rumors about Rondon closing in Chicago:

"This guy is a special potential closer with the makeup of a closer," Dombrowski said. "Normally you're not going to thrust that in a young guy's hands and say automatically, 'That's your job,' but it would not surprise me if he earned that job.

"There are not many arms like this. And he cherishes that kind of role."

And, recently, I have heard more talk of the Tigers going with Rondon as their closer next season, so I figured it would be a good time to take a look at him. Before we look at his minor league stats, here is what John had to say about him in his recent Detroit Tigers Top 20 Prospects for 2013:

3) Bruce Rondon, RHP, Grade B: Borderline B-: Tough to get a straight B grade for a reliever and I might go down a notch. Have to admit I love the fastball.

Here are Rondon's career minor league stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference:

Year Age Lg Lev W L ERA G GF SV IP H R ER HR BB IBB SO WHIP H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2008 17 VESL FRk 2 6 3.58 13 0 0 55.1 48 36 22 0 20 0 34 1.229 7.8 0.0 3.3 5.5 1.70
2009 18 2 Lgs Rk-FRk 0 1 7.04 6 1 0 15.1 17 12 12 0 15 0 19 2.087 10.0 0.0 8.8 11.2 1.27
2009 18 VESL FRk 0 0 13.50 3 1 0 4.0 5 6 6 0 7 0 4 3.000 11.2 0.0 15.8 9.0 0.57
2009 18 GULF Rk 0 1 4.76 3 0 0 11.1 12 6 6 0 8 0 15 1.765 9.5 0.0 6.4 11.9 1.88
2010 19 2 Lgs Rk-A+ 0 0 0.84 28 24 17 32.1 13 3 3 2 16 0 33 0.897 3.6 0.6 4.5 9.2 2.06
2010 19 GULF Rk 0 0 0.70 24 22 15 25.2 11 2 2 1 14 0 26 0.974 3.9 0.4 4.9 9.1 1.86
2010 19 FLOR A+ 0 0 1.35 4 2 2 6.2 2 1 1 1 2 0 7 0.600 2.7 1.4 2.7 9.4 3.50
2011 20 MIDW A 2 2 2.02 41 33 19 40.0 22 11 9 0 34 1 61 1.400 5.0 0.0 7.6 13.7 1.79
2012 21 3 Lgs A+-AA-AAA 2 1 1.53 52 48 29 53.0 32 12 9 3 26 2 66 1.094 5.4 0.5 4.4 11.2 2.54
2012 21 FLOR A+ 1 0 1.93 22 21 15 23.1 12 5 5 1 10 1 34 0.943 4.6 0.4 3.9 13.1 3.40
2012 21 EL AA 0 1 0.83 21 19 12 21.2 15 4 2 1 9 0 23 1.108 6.2 0.4 3.7 9.6 2.56
2012 21 IL AAA 1 0 2.25 9 8 2 8.0 5 3 2 1 7 1 9 1.500 5.6 1.1 7.9 10.1 1.29
5 Seasons 6 10 2.53 140 106 65 196.0 132 74 55 5 111 3 213 1.240 6.1 0.2 5.1 9.8 1.92
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/24/2012.

The Good

Rondon saved 29 games with a 1.53 ERA and 1.094 WHIP while pitching at three levels, High A, AA, and AAA in 2012. He struck out 11.2 batters per nine innings, across three levels, while giving up just 32 hits and 3 home runs in 53.0 innings.

In 2011, he went 2-1 with 19 saves, a 2.02 ERA, and striking out 61 batters in 40 innings in the Low A Midwest League. Prior to 2011, he jumped between rookie ball and High A with mixed results, as he was dominating in some years, and off the charts wild in other years.

He has given up just 5 home runs in his minor league career, covering 196 innings. That, by itself, screams that he can close at the big league level.

The Bad

I am not sure Jim Leyland has enough cigarettes or pepto bismol to deal with Rondon on the mound. He has shown that he can be dominating, but he has shown flashes of wildness that makes Jose Valverde look like Greg Maddux.

He walked 7.6 batters per nine innings as recently as 2011, but improved his control in 2012, reducing his walk rate to "just" 4.4 walks per nine innings. The drop in the walk rate is a positive, but he still needs to work on his control to be an effective closer at the major league level.

In the last two years, he has given up more walks than hits, so that tells me two things. He is wild, and we know that. But he is tough to hit as well. In his minor league career, he has given up just 132 hits in 196 innings, but has walked 111. Also worrisome, albeit in a small sample size, he walked 7 batters in 8 innings pitched in AAA in 2012.

It's obvious that Rondon has the stuff to close in the big leagues. He owns a 100 mph fastball, strikes out a ton of batters, rarely gives up a hit, and hardly ever gives up a home run. But the control.. .

Will Jim Leyland be able to live with a few walks in the 9th inning as long as Rondon doesn't give up a hit, or better yet, the long ball? Let me know in the comments below.

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