Updated: May 2, 2019
THIS IS A COUNTDOWN!!!!! Over the next forty-something days starting on February 12th and ending on March 28th, I will be rolling out my Top 35 prospects in the Cardinals organization. We call it "The Dirty Thirty-Five" because it's marketable, I think. Also, we call it that because my write-ups and evaluations are a little different. I’m kind of quirky and goofy guy and the evaluations fit that personality. I've already written about the four players that graduated off the list. I've also written about the guys that just missed the list. You should check those out because you're going to have questions about my sanity afterwards. The article about the guys that didn’t make the D35 is really freaking good. This list is my own. It's terrible. I'm fine with it. Remember, have fun with these lists. Ranking prospects is a joke, but it's fun so treat all of the prospect ranking accordingly.
Angel Rondon - Right-Handed Pitcher
Signed as an International Free Agent in 2016
A+ Palm Beach
STATS AS OF 5-1-2019
***MY PLAN WAS TO INCORPORATE A TON OF .GIFS INTO THIS ARTICLE SO THAT YOU COULD SEE RONDON'S TOTAL ARSENAL AND I WANTED THOSE .GIFS TO BE FROM THE OUTFIELD VIEW. BUT MY PERSONAL ARCHIVE DELETED ABOUT HALF OF MY SAVED GIFS AND MiLB TV IS UNDERGOING MAINTENANCE SO I CAN'T MAKE NEW GIFS. I SINCERELY SINCERELY SINCERELY APOLOGIZE AND I PROMISE TO UPDATE THIS ARTICLE AS SOON AS I CAN WITH THE VISUAL GOODIES. UNTIL THEN, YOU'LL JUST GET THE CRAPPY ANGLE FROM BEHIND HOME PLATE***
This is the story of a prospect that I am banking heavily on. More than likely, you haven't heard of him or read very much about him. It's also more than likely that many of the national services haven't, either. That's just how it works, sometimes.
Truthfully, Rondon almost slipped through my cracks (mmm). That's because I'm a terrible evaluator that doesn’t spend enough time or energy on the International players that sign as teenagers.
That is mostly because we tend to get overly-excited about the guys that sign for big dollars in the International market. Often times, the players that don't sign for big dollars are the players that end up making the most dramatic organizational impact. Rondon was even a little older than your average International free agent when he was signed, and those guys usually get even less attentio. They also seemed to have the lowest odds, as well. My personal apprehension with aggressively ranking these players is because it isn't easy to find in-game footage of them against anything resembling equal talent. I usually hold off on having an opinion on a player until I see a decent amount of what that player looks like during competitive game action.
The other thing about Rondon is that he isn't the prototypical "big-time Dominican-born pitcher." He doesn’t have big-velocity or a consistent “wipe-out“ breaking pitch (just yet). He doesn't appear to be (and has yet to exhibit signs that he is) wild or out of control on the mound. That is, in part, to say that you probably won't hear anyone say "he needs to corral his body to polish his repertoire."
Instead, Rondon is just "solid." His fastball is solid, living in the low-90's but topping out a wee bit higher. I firmly believe that Rondon would be on every list imaginable if he was hitting 94 MPH consistently. Instead, I've been told, that's what he tops out at. That won't do much for the hype train.
I'm pretty sure that he throws both a sinker and a traditional four-seam fastball. This pitch definitely has sinker movement on it:
Then, there's this pitch. This seems like a "pure" four-seam fastball to me. He's more than capable of using it up in the zone to blow it by a hitter when needed (even in the low-90's which is a good indication of above-average spin at that level), like he does here:
His curve can be big and brutal, but it's just average on a consistent basis, right now. He throws it with solid control, while having a solid feel for his entire repertoire. He also does a very solid (man, I'm really beating this "solid" thing to a pulp) job of repeating his delivery, even if he does drop his hand down a little further when he throws his breaking pitch. You can see that he does a great job of hiding the ball from every view available. He also does a great job of never slowing down his lightning quick arm when he's throwing something off-speed.
There are a couple of issues that I have noticed with Rondon that are worth monitoring. First, it seems like he is going to be very hittable against left-handed hitters. Most of the concerning contact that I've seen against him has come from lefties. That's reflected in the OPS against vs lefties of .751 with six home runs allowed in 158 plate appearances. He also doesn't have the same confidence in himself when he is pitching to lefties. Rondon is a pitcher with a tremendous amount of mound presence, and you can tell when he isn't "feeling it." In my experience watching him, his mojo really seems to change against lefties when things get tough.
Even more, lefties end up seeing more pitches against him as he tries to nibble on the corners. He also walks lefties more than he walks righties. part of the reason for the extra walk totals is because his curve doesn't always do what it does in the above .gif. That's why I wanted to include that .gif above; it shows that he can be effective back-dooring a breaking pitch against lefties when he's feeling it. Unfortunately, It doesn't happen as often or consistently or as BIG as he'll need it to be moving forward. He is capable of doing it, though, and that's half of the battle for a player this young and at this minor league level. I'm bullish that it'll continue to evolve.
The two stats that I really like from Rondon is his walk rate and strikeout rate at Peoria. His strikeout rate of 23% is very good and his walk rate of a nice 6.9% is above average and more than acceptable.
I definitely love the 2.90 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, and the .220 batting average against, but the strikeout and walk rates really please me. I'd definitely like to see the walk rate improve a bit if it can, but I'm really happy with the strikeout rate. I know that I've said it a couple of times now, but he was 20-years-old pitching in the Midwest League! All of these numbers are so promising!
While I've done a loud-job of complimenting his command, there are a couple of things about his command that do worry me. Rondon allowed ten home runs in 88 IP and that is something that I'm not too keen on. As a matter of fact, it's a statistical a red flag. It's not as much of a red flag as it would be if he had allowed those home runs in an age-appropriate league, but it's still a red flag. Honesty, it’s a large part of the reason why I don’t have him higher on the list.
Like with every minor league pitching prospect that has the potential to be a starter, the key for Rondon moving forward will be how his additional offerings develop, along with continued refinement of his two/three primary offerings. I've seen him throw something that looks a bit like a lame-duck change up that I'm obviously not a fan of. . As I've already mentioned in another D35 write-up, and especially because the changeup is such a "feel" pitch, I'd be all in favor of him developing a cutter. One of the reasons that I’m disappointed about not being able to provide you with more .gifs from behind the center field angle is because I think that he messes around with a slider, too. We’ll have to revisit that later when I can actually show it to you
The one area that is very "Dominican pitcher" of him during his motion, which can be aggressive, comes during the follow-through. He's more over the top than someone like Carlos Martinez is, but he still whips it and finishes a little too exaggerated for my liking. However, it's important that I emphasize that "if it works and it doesn't hurt, then it works for me" here. Still, it could definitely use some cleaning up.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Sometimes I get too caught up when a player as young as Rondon performing as well as he did at such an advanced league. There's a chance that this is exactly what I'm doing here, too. However, because he was successful statistically with an interesting repertoire and pitchability, I feel confident that there's going to be more than just small sample success with Rondon. At the very least, he appears to be the type of pitcher that could make a decent impact in the bullpen if he eventually makes it to the major leagues in the next three to four seasons. With a little refinement and development of additional offerings beyond the sinker and curve and continued success up in the zone with the four-seam, the Cardinals just might have a potential rotation option in the not too distant future. I feel like there's a lot of Luke Weaver in Rondon, but with a solid curve and a change that needs work instead of the opposite way around with Weaver.
MAY 1st UPDATE
It's been a great start to the season for Rondon, and he looks like he is going to be every bit the breakout pitching prospect that we suspected he'd be. He's keep the power suppressed, albeit in a power suppressing league. He's also striking out more than he's ever struck out. That is coming with an increase in walk totals, but I'll take it, regardless. It's too early to start touting him as a potential professional, but it's not too early to keep an extremely close eye on his ascent.
Thank you to FanGraphs for their amazing stats.
Thanks For Reading!!