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Thoughts on Chicago White Sox prospect Jose Rondon

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22 homers this year. . .previous career-high was seven

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Chicago White Sox Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

While working on the Chicago White Sox Top 20 prospects for 2018 mid-season review a few days ago, I noted the massive power surge from infielder Jose Rondon. I promised a reader that we’d take a closer look, so let’s do that.

In 313 at-bats in Triple-A this year he’s hit .249/.290/.495 with 18 homers, with a close-to-even home/road split: 10 homers, .512 slugging at home for Charlotte, eight homers, .477 slugging on the road in the rest of the International League. In the majors we have 57 at-bats with a .263/.311/.544 line, four homers.

That’s 22 homers on the season all-told.

His previous career-high was seven.

The last time I did a longer write-up for Rondon was on the 2017 San Diego Padres Top 20 list, which went like this:

20) Jose Rondon, SS, Grade C+: Age 22, signed by Angels out of Venezuela in 2011, traded to Padres in Huston Street deal; hit .283/.309/.386 with 16 walks, 78 strikeouts, 13 steals in 456 at-bats between Double-A and Triple-A; went 3-for-25 in the majors; excellent defensive shortstop and fun to watch, glove and speed will keep him in the majors but lack of power and mediocre feel for zone will keep him from playing regularly in the short run; he makes contact well and it is slightly conceivable that he could hit better long-term if he adds strength; ETA 2017.

As you know he was traded to the White Sox in January 2018. And now we have this power explosion.

There were some small hints of this coming.

Way back in 2014, I wrote this in the Baseball Prospect Book:

Signed out of Venezuela in 2010, Rondon is gradually but steadily establishing his reputation as an intriguing infield prospect. He lacks power, but is adept at making contact and has improved his strike zone judgment. He throws quite well, has decent-enough range, and is more reliable than most young shortstops in terms of avoiding mistakes. His makeup is considered very good as well. We need to see if his bat will grow at higher levels, but I rather like Rondon and I think he could end up surprising us offensively. Grade C+.

Clearly that’s happened.

His SLG went from .359 in 2015 to .386 in 2016 to .442 in 2017. He’s bigger than he used to be: he was listed at 6-0, 170 four years ago but checks in at 6-1, 195 now.

Watching him play, he still moves around well but I think he’s lost a tick of running speed compared to four years ago, which dovetails nicely with declining stolen base totals. There are also reports of range declines at shortstop and right now he looks better at second or third base.

He is still an impatient hitter, although his strikeout rate has increased with his power. My thinking is that Rondon has matured physically, is simply capable of hitting the ball harder and farther than he once was, and has responded to this by attacking the ball more aggressively rather than just going for contact.

Whether this will work in a larger sample as pitchers get more looks at him remains to be seen of course. With 82 career at-bats he’s still rookie eligible and may remain so for 2019 depending on how much action he sees in September. Grade-wise I’d put him on the border between C+ and B- right now. The power surge is promising but his on-base abilities are questionable at the moment.