Sunday, February 17, 2013
Is Detroit ready to trust a rookie?
By Jason Catania
The Detroit Tigers have been planning on giving prospect Bruce Rondon the first shot to serve as their closer in 2013, which means they'd be handing narrow leads to a 22-year-old with just nine games above Double-A baseball. This concept has drawn questions from fans and media, but the club is sticking to its guns, writes Lynn Henning of the Detroit News.
Such a stance kept the club from considering spending money on free agents with closing experience like Rafael Soriano, Ryan Madson, Joakim Soria and Kyle Farnsworth. The Tigers also decided against trading for Joel Hanrahan, who went to the Red Sox.
While former Giants closer Brian Wilson, who's recovering from his second Tommy John surgery, has been mentioned as a possibility, GM Dave Dombrowski told MLB.com's Jason Beck that Wilson wants to close -- and the Tigers can't make that promise right now.
Rondon looked good in his first action of camp, according to catcher Alex Avila, who spoke with ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney after catching Rondon's bullpen session. Olney's report provides an account of Rondon's high-octane fastball, as well as his easy delivery and three-quarters arm angle.
Detroit does have veterans to go to in the ninth inning if Rondon struggles, including Phil Coke and Joaquin Benoit. Octavio Dotel also has done the job before, but each of those three has his own flaws, namely struggles against opposite-handed hitters, as FanGraphs' Dave Cameron writes.
Dombrowski reiterated last week that Rondon will have to win the job in camp. But even if he does, he'll have to prove he can sustain his performance throughout the season -- no easy task for a rookie.
Dave CameronWhy Rondon could falter as closer
"The problem for Detroit is that Rondon's minor league track record suggests that he might not be ready for the ninth-inning job. Over the past two minor league seasons, left-handed batters have posted a .406 on-base percentage against Rondon, in large part thanks to a staggeringly high 21.3 percent walk rate. Rondon has dominated right-handed batters, holding them to a dismal .120/.235/.131, but his inability to consistently throw strikes to left-handers should be a big red flag for the Tigers. In many ways, Rondon's profile is similar to that of both Valverde and Villarreal, and both have rightfully been deemed unworthy of the closer's role on a team hoping to contend for the World Series."