Bernie Pleskoff is a former pro scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. He is a “graduate” of the Major League Scouting Bureau’s Scout School in Phoenix, Arizona. Prior to getting into baseball, Bernie served as Dean of Campus Life at Loyola University of Chicago for 27 years. He’s married and lives with his wife Lynn in Cave Creek, Arizona. He’ll share his weekly thoughts on prospects with RotoWire from a scouting perspective.
Hector Rondon: Ready for the I-71 Expressway
Hector Rondon has to be feeling some pressure. With the total collapse of the Cleveland pitching staff, Indians management has made no secret of the fact that Rondon’s part of their immediate future. Immediate may mean as soon as this season as opposed to next. Immediate may mean in the starting rotation as soon as possible. Immediate may happen because the options are few. There aren’t many alternatives available. Underline, circle and red line Rondon’s name on your list of soon to be viable starters.
The club brass liked what they saw of Rondon this past spring. In fact, he was one of the only bright spots in a woeful inaugural season in Goodyear, Arizona. He only threw three innings, but he was pretty impressive. One hit. No runs. Indians pitcher after pitcher complained the ball was too slippery, there wasn’t enough humidity in the air and on and on. In short, the Indians spring training performance was a chilling foreshadowing of things to come. The pitching’s imploded. The bullpen, thought to be a strength of the club by GM Mark Shapiro and his staff, has underperformed, to put it mildly. The starting staff can’t provide enough innings to keep the bullpen in the bullpen. Tribe pitching has been humbled, toasted, roasted and skewered. Looking over their collective shoulders, the Indians’ front office sees Rondon.
Rondon was moved from Double-A Akron to Triple-A Columbus at the All-Star break in an effort to put him on the fast track to Cleveland. Only a two-hour, 142-mile drive along Interstate 71, the expressway has been a heavily used symbol of futility for the Indians organization. Rondon should take that trip soon, sooner rather than later.
So, who is Hector Rondon? To begin, he’s only 21 years old. He’s 6-foot-3 and is filling out at about 179 pounds. Adding strength to his body has helped his endurance and his overall durability. He’s a right-handed starter who signed as a free agent with the Indians from Venezuela in August of 2004. He’s pitched well at every level. This season, he began at Double-A Akron, where he went 7-5 with a 2.75 ERA in 13 starts. He walked only two hitters per nine innings while striking out nine. His 1.056 whip over 72 innings was impressive. Columbus calling. In his first Triple-A start, Rondon went six scoreless innings. He walked two and struck out eight.
Rondon throws three basic pitches; a fastball, a slurve and a change-up. All three pitches are quality and average to above average. His change-up consistently does what it’s supposed to do. It changes batter’s balance and interrupts their timing. He uses a 92-93 mph fastball with great late life to make the other two pitches most effective. The slurve doesn’t break as sharply as a traditional slider, but it does the job of keeping right-handed hitters honest on the outside of the plate. As noted with his strikeout to walk ratio, his greatest strength is his ability to control and command each of those three pitches. He has the ability to throw strikes. It’s likely he can be a very effective middle of the rotation starter on a good pitching staff. Projecting to the immediate future, he would easily be the No. 2 starter behind Cliff Lee in Cleveland’s current rotation. The pending return of Jake Westbrook might alter that ranking. Of course, Fausto Carmona lurks in the wings, but he’s still having issues finding his command. He looks like a continuing project for the Cleveland pitching coaches. But that’s a story for another day.
If there’s a fly in the ointment, it might be Rondon’s ability to pitch from the stretch. His numbers do change a bit when he isn’t in the windup. His arm action remains solid, but hitters get a different angle and look at his secondary pitches. Obviously, with fewer base runners because of his control, the stretch shouldn’t be that much of an issue. It is, however, something he has to concentrate and work on in that part of his game.
So, as things progress, is Rondon worthy of a starting role with Cleveland, or is Cleveland just desperate for pitching? The answer is probably some of both. Rondon’s a quality pitcher with potential. Ah, there’s that word. He’s unproven against the best quality hitters. He has potential. He has a huge upside. But he’s totally unproven. He has the tools, he has the temperament, he has the physical ability and he has the support of the organization. That adds up to a prospect who’ll be given a chance. Are they rushing him? Probably. They have little choice unless they make a trade or two in the coming weeks. Rondon’s the best pitching prospect in the Cleveland minor league organization at this point in time. There are others, but Rondon is the furthest along.
A fastball, slurve and change-up with good command. That’s a solid recipe. Rondon should be ready to take the two-hour ride along the I-71 expressway, and soon.
Extra Innings – The Future in Seattle
James McOwen – An outfielder with the High-A High Desert club has a remarkable 45-game hitting streak from May 8 thru July 11. How tough is it to get a hit every game? Ask any ballplayer. Regardless of the league, that’s a tremendous accomplishment. It wasn’t only one hit a game. McOwen’s hitting .346 with six home runs.
Tyson Gilles – Gilles is also an outfielder with the same High Desert club, who’s hitting .322 with six home runs and 23 stolen bases. He’s a high profile player on the radar of most clubs.
Carlos Peguero – Another High Desert outfielder, Peguero has 18 home runs, 56 RBI and a .275 batting average.
Keep your eye on – Alex Liddi – A 20-year-old third base prospect from San Remo, Italy, Liddi’s hitting .355 with 20 home runs and a OPS of 1.039 for High Desert. He plays a position thin in the Mariners organization. The Mariners have an exciting farm system anchored at every level with quality players. Only a few are listed above.