2020 Preseason Dirty Thirty-Five: Prospect #9

PROSPECT PREFACE

I present to you my list of the top 35 prospects within the Cardinals organization!! The list is both exhausting and ever-evolving.

I am aggressive with who I deem to be a "Graduate." You can read the post that I wrote on The Graduates by following this link. As a heads up, you won't find Lane Thomas, Ryan Helsley, Genesis Cabrera, Andrew Knizner, Rangel Ravelo, or Edmundo Sosa on The Dirty Thirty-Five (R.I.Cardinals Prospect.P to Tampa Bay Ray Randy Arozarena and Texas Ranger Adolis "JAG" Garcia).

There is also another group of about 15 prospects that I could have written about. They are on the outside looking in, currently. I did write in-depth about five of them, and I presented those fellas in this article. I also briefly touch on a bunch of other prospects in that article.

Finally, I totally cheated and basically just copied and pasted the individual write-ups from the "Position Rankings" articles that I wrote after Black Friday. I hadn't realized how thorough those write-ups were until I started to redoing the D35. Those write-ups are the shells for these posts. I have added additional gifs and thoughts to each and I've done some MAJOR editing within each write-up, as well.


Please enjoy! Please have fun! Please tell me what you think!


RHP Angel Rondon

Age 22

Palm Beach and Springfield

International Signing, 2016 But During The 2015 Period



I can't think of a time in which a Cardinals pitching prospect got as little respect as Rondon is getting for being as good as he is. He's a legitimate major league arm, and there are some forecasters out there that didn't even put him on their top prospect list. If I were you, I would seriously think twice about believing anything written by a site that doesn't have Rondon in their top 30. Hell, even in their top 20. But to have him off of the list should be best described as "irresponsible."


I am obviously super-bullish on Rondon. I'm probably more bullish on him than anybody else that follows the minors for the Cardinals. But I was also more bullish on him than anyone else last season. He was our preseason #26 on last year's Dirty Thirty-Five. We were way ahead of everyone on that. That feels good.


There are many reasons why I am bullish on Rondon.

First, his fastball/curve combo is the type that makes rehabbing MLB players look awful. Just as Adalberto Mondesí in the gif above. That was a fun game to watch, as Rondon dismantled Adalberto on multiple occasions. You'll notice in that gif how he's able to have success working his fastball everywhere against the lefty. You'll also notice that the changeup is effective inside on the lefty. Then you'll notice the big breaking pitch that dismantles the lefty. That at-bat is a beautiful work of art.


One of the things that I find most intriguing about Rondon is how good he is against lefties (I just want to type a variation of the word "left" a million times). It's because he can use his entire arsenal against them. On the season, in 349 plate appearances against lefties, Rondon held them to a line of 193/284/261 while striking out 25.5% of them between A+ and AA. It's always a great sign when a righty can dominate the lefties, or a lefty can dominate the righties. Of course, the issue against lefties is that he walks too many of them at a robust 11.2%. He needs to find the balance there. He needs to be more aggressive with what he has.


That should not distract you from how good Rondon was against righties during the 2019 season. In 311 plate appearances against like-handed hitters, Rondon held them to a line of 234/296/362. It's odd to see that he only struck out 22.5% of them as compared to 25.5% of left-handers, but it doesn't bug me at all. I love that he only walks about 6.4% of righties, and that says nothing for the amount of soft contact that he gives up.


Combined, hitters slashed 213/290/310 on the season against Rondon. He struck out 24.1% of hitters while walking about 9% in total. All of that will play just fine. It was clear that Rondon was too good for Palm Beach, so let's take the time to break down his sample at Springfield, exclusively.


At Springfield, a league that Rondon was 3.2 years younger than on average, Rondon put up an ERA of 3.21 and held hitters to a batting average against of .228. That's pretty wonderful. His FIP of 3.97 tells us he was outperforming his ERA, but I think that has a lot to do with the fact that his strikeout rate dropped from 26.3% at Palm Beach to 23.3% in Springfield. Now, to clarify, I don't mean to say that FIP is connected from level to level because it is absolutely not at all. Just that the FIP increase from Palm Beach seems to be proportionate to the strikeout decrease from Palm Beach.


Any way that you cut it, isolate it, or break it up, Rondon had a great season. It was definitely worth being awarded the Cardinals minor league pitcher of the year.


To get deeper into his arsenal, Rondon's fastball is hard and delightful, and what I love about it is that he does an awesome job of changing speeds with it in-game. Sometimes he'll be throwing the ball in the low 90's. Other times, that thing will be consistently touching 95. Most of the time, He's living between 91-95, but I have seen him jack that thing up to the high 90's. That type of velocity isn't his game, though, and he's something special to watch when he is commanding the fastball as well as he is capable of commanding the fastball. It isn't a pitch that you'd grade above average from a movement standpoint, but everything else that you'd want of it (command, deception, release point, arm speed etc.) is above average.


His best breaking pitch is that nasty curveball that we talked about earlier. I've been told that he calls it a slider, and that it's classified as a slider, but the movement on that thing is all curveball. I'm going to call it a curve, you're going to see it in the gifs, and you are going to agree with me. Plus, I believe that Rondon mixes in a little cutter every great once and awhile, as well. So, to say that he throws that potentially "plus" curve and a little bit of a cutter helps to differentiate those pitches a little better. He does a great job of playing that curve off of his fastball when he's throwing the fastball high in the zone.


I might be getting ahead of myself, but I believe that this pitch is a true plus pitch, with the potential to be plus plus. I've watched every inning that he has thrown that is available to me, and I feel comfortable stating that he is capable of manipulating the shape of it as he decides to. As I mentioned, it has more of traditional curve shape to it, but he's capable of tightening it up, and he's even capable of sweeping it across the plate like a slider. His ability to use this pitch how he wants, when he wants, is what sets him apart from the pack.


Where Rondon really excels on the mound is that he isn't just a pitcher that relies on the high fastball and a curve to play off of it. The action on his changeup allows him to use the fastball effectively low in the zone, as well. It still needs work, but it's already good enough to keep hitters honest. The cutter withstanding, I love Rondon's usage of his arsenal. All three pitches are average or better, right now.


The gif above is from the end of the 2018 season. All of the other gifs in this article are from the 2019 season. You'll notice that he's done a great job of getting his mechanics under control in the time span of one season. You'll also notice that righty has filled out well. He isn't a hulking man like Johan Oviedo is, but he has good size for a pitcher.


It dawns on me as I write this, and I type this, that I feel similarly about Rondon as I did about Ryan Helsley as he exited his first taste of AA baseball. Just as Helsley was, Rondon is being over-looked as a "leGit" prospect due mostly to old and outdated scouting reports, and the fact that he doesn't have the flashiest pedigree. Rondon doesn't have the natural heat that Helsley has, thus the ability to strike people out like Helsley can, but he has an arsenal of pitches and sustained success that is being overlooked.

No, instead, all Rondon has done is perform. As you can see thanks to the gifs, Rondon has a quirky little delivery, and that quirky little delivery allows him to hide the ball exceptionally well. When he starts to present the ball, it's accompanied by well-above-average arm speed. That also helps his stuff play-up.

I've watched Rondon really grow over the last season. When I watched him pitch in Peoria during the 2018 season, you could see the foundation for success, but the concrete hadn't cured just yet. When you watched him during the 2019 season, you could see a lot of his weaknesses start to fade.

Rondon is a smart pitcher with interesting stuff. He's also surprisingly efficient, and he was asked to work deep into games even when he didn't have his best stuff. These are the trappings of a pitcher that will stick as a starter. I do think that Rondon has an arm for late-inning work if that's where he eventually ends up. I'm super bullish on Rondon, and you should be, too.



THE DEAL


He's good. Some say he's a pen arm. Some say he'll start. Some glibly don't even know that he exists. Watch the gifs and make up your own mind. Or, just read the article.




The biggest of shout outs should be given to @Cardinalsgifs, FanGraphs, Twitter, and MiLB. TV for all of the work that they do that eventually gets put into these articles.

Look at that beautiful pic by @Cardinalsgifs. I just wanted things to work out. I just wanted everyone to be happy. Gif's makes everyone happy.


Thanks For Reading!!

Kyle Reis