Updated: Dec 6, 2021
WELCOME TO THE DIRTY FLIRTY.
These are my top 40 prospects in The Cardinals organization, aside from the players that I’ve already covered in The Dirty Annexes. This little ditty here is the preface to all of the post in our Dirty series. So, if you’ve read this once then you don’t need to read it again!
A warning to those looking for Lars Nootbaar, Scott Hurst, Junior Fernandez, Johan Oviedo, Jake Woodford, Edmundo Sosa, and anyone aside from Angel Rondon that has already made a major league debut: That’s not really by bailiwick, as I’m sure you’ve heard enough about those guys from more qualified outlets already. Most of those guys have exhausted their prospect status, anyway.
A reminder that this is an exercise in futility, ranking prospects. It’s a landscape that is ever-changing and developing. We are almost always talking about kids that are just starting to understand both themselves and their bodies, while learning the most difficult and nuanced sport in the land. You never know when someone is going to start doing 200 pushups per day on their way to postseason glory.
I ask for your thoughts and feedback. I ask that you have fun. I ask that you remember that I’m a moron. Most importantly, I ask that you take all of the prospect rankings from every outlet in the spirit of what they are: a snapshot of that moment, with a bent towards understanding what might come.
#13: RHP Angel Rondón
24 Years Old on Opening Day
Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2016
St. Louis and Memphis
Before we get too deep into it, let’s take a second to applaud Rondón for his effective two innings with the big club in 2021. Of course, he should have spent more time with the team, and he should have gotten more chances, but it was nice to see him make a debut and to not get beat around in those innings.
If Rondón is around, he’s going to be a polarizing prospect. I’ve kept this to myself until the data became available, but one thing that Rondón doesn’t do particularly well is spin a baseball. All of his spin numbers are pedestrian at best, and that’s going to throw off a good portion of the fan base. I’m sure that he seems more like a ticking time bomb to that portion of the fan base, and I understand why they would think that way.
But there is more to Rondón than that. There has always been more to Rondón than that.
Rondón is where the data and the eye-test meet in the middle. It’s where we can find common ground with compromise and understanding. As the “eye-test” part of this particular instance, I can tell you that Rondón’s command, repertoire, and feel for pitching allows his stuff to “play up.” He can get creative with the usage of his slider and kind of shape it here and there, and this makes it a tough pitch to square up. Rondón also has great arm speed and a surprisingly deceptive motion. There is also something about his release point that makes it tough for hitters to pick up.
That data basically says that none of these things matter. Of course, this is a heavily over-simplification on my part, that is worded purposefully dismissive. This is how bias works. Keep an eye out for this in the writings of others.
When I put my biases aside, I see the entire picture with Rondón. More of a pitcher than a spinner, Rondón needs all of the things that I mentioned above in order to be as good as he can be. Without one of those things, the entire stack of cards start to crumble. That doesn’t mean that he can’t be good if one of those things gets off kilter, just that he can’t be as good as he is capable of being if something is out of whack.
This starts with his fastball.
Again, the pitch doesn’t spin wildly, but Rondón does enough with it to get it on top of hitters quicker than they can react to it to do the damage that they need to do against it. Since it’s not a pitch that he consistently throws in the upper 90’s when he’s starting, it’s a pitch that is meant more for contact than anything else, and it’s a slippery slop that Rondón is more of a fly ball pitcher. There is a recipe for disaster here, even if it hasn’t exactly caught up with Rondón yet. We did see him let up more homers in 2021 than he ever has, and that’s cause for alarm.
Where it gets tricky with Rondón is how ineffective he’s been against right-handers. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I love Rondón’s slider and changeup, and both pitches have a chance to be consistently above average pitches. The issue is that both pitches are the type of pitches that are tougher on lefties than on righties. Angel's changeup, specifically. His slider tends to hang a little too long when he isn’t cutting it up in the zone, and that really hurt him in 2021. It also felt like Rondón wasn’t going inside on right-handed hitters with the same frequency as he did in the past. Whatever the case, Rondón is going to have to do something different against righties moving forward than he did in 2021 if he is going to be a viable option at the Major League level. Increased use of his curveball and a reemphasis on going inside is the direction that I would point him in, to start.
One area that had me very concerned with Rondón in 2021 was that he seemed to work slower than ever, particularly in the stretch. He would come set and stay set for noticeably longer than ever. I’m sure that it was by design, but I felt like it really hurt him and threw him off his rhythm. Rondón's motion can be very slow to the plate sometimes if he isn't slide stepping, and that is why I think that this was deliberate. Stopping the running game is important, no doubt. However, I don’t really care about it at all if it throws a pitcher off of his rhythm. Now, Rondón isn’t always slow to the plate. He can do that little slide-step instead of the leg-kick. You can tell that he just isn’t comfortable with it all of the time yet. Obviously, reconciling all of this will be an important step for Rondón moving forward.
Now, you might be asking yourself how I could put a pitcher with these question marks as my 14th overall on the top prospects list. It’s because Rondón is really freaking good still, even with these question marks. Angel is still young, too, and he was clearly hurt by the lost 2020 season. For having “spin issues,” Rondón still has a lively arsenal, and he could reach the next level if his curveball can find some type of consistency, specifically against righties.
I also see Rondón as having the floor of a really solid middle reliever, even if I think that his future is as a short-term starter. I’ve seen Rondón reach back for more with all of his pitches, and I know with 100% certainty that his stuff will play “up” consistently out of the bullpen if he can continue to reach back for more. Add on his pitching IQ to the equation and there is more here than just minor league depth. He’s a better pitcher than Jake Woodford, and if Woodford can have measured success down the stretch, then there is no reason that Rondón can’t.
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I love ZACH SILVER. He does a great job as the Cardinals' beat writer from MLB.com, and he's a fuzzy little man peach.
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Thank For Reading!!