I will admit, when I read that the Sox had acquired Cleuluis Rondon in the Jake Peavy trade last year, I brushed it aside as a non-event, and considered him merely a throw in due to his lack of offensive performance. I want to take this opportunity to analyze him in greater detail, however, to see if my original assumption was valid.
Rondon’s career numbers to date are not pretty, to put it mildly. His career triple slash line is .223/.312/.292, and even that line has been inflated by his 43 walks in 205 AB (15.9 BB%) in the DSL, which is full of pitchers with awful control. If we regress Rondon’s BB% from his DSL stint back to his career average (5.2%), it gives a career triple slash line of .223/.271/.295. He did start switch hitting not too long ago, and has fairly even splits from both sides of the plate, which would be of value, but it’s clear to see why it would be easy to give up on him as a prospect. His bat has a long way to go if it’s ever going to be even replacement level in MLB.
When analyzing a prospect’s past offensive performances I like to look for trends that show year-to-year progress, as this can often be a good sign for future development. I will note that all of the sample sizes are small (100-250 PA’s), for the stats that I’m about to analyze. Starting with BB%, Rondon sat at 4.5% in 2012 in Rookie Ball. This rose to 5.1% in 2013 Short-Season-A, and then 6.7% in Single-A after being traded to the Sox. K% has been fairly static, going from 18.5% in 2011, to 21.2% in 2012 and 20.7% in 2013. Finally, Rondon’s power (ISO), jumped from .068 in 2011 to .121 in ’12, before falling to .073 in 2013 (Short-Season-A) and then again to .032 with Kannapolis. There’s not a lot to glean from this limited data, but you could possibly say that Rondon’s BB% has been trending up, and his ISO trending down.
This is where Rondon starts to get a little more interesting. Baseball America’s Ben Badler said the following about Rondon:
— Ben Badler (@BenBadler) July 30, 2012
Cleuluis Rondon: Really smooth defensive shortstop. As for his bat, well . . . he’s a really good defensive shortstop.
— Ben Badler (@BenBadler) July 31, 2013
“Rondon offers plus range and hands at either shortstop or second base, but international scouts never were convinced he would hit.” – 07/31/2013
BA’s Josh Norris noted that he ranks Rondon as one of the top 3 Short-Stops in the South Atlantc League this year, along with the Phillies’ J.P. Crawford (2013 1st round pick – 16 overall) and the Yankees’ Abiatal Avelino.
Ian Cundall of (Red) soxprospects.com:
Liked what I’ve seen out of Cleuluis Rondon in ST and Lowell. Some tools, but a long way away. Natural SS, but has been playing mostly 2B.
— Ian Cundall (@IanCundall) July 31, 2013
“Excellent defensive shortstop with a projectable body. Also capable of playing second base more than adequately. Offense is far behind his defense. Decent bat speed. Has shown flashes of gap power in batting practice, but hasn’t made consistent contact or shown much in game power at lower levels. Utility player ceiling.”
FanGraphs contributor Nathaniel Stoltz Tweeted:
Oh, Cleuluis Rondon still is a crazy-good defender, too: https://t.co/0gWoq5ATCi
— Nathaniel Stoltz (@stoltz_baseball) April 7, 2014
Rondon appears to have bulked up a tad from last year, slightly stronger hitter. Lofted a double over Manuel Margot’s head.
— Nathaniel Stoltz (@stoltz_baseball) April 4, 2014
Stoltz uploaded a video of Rondon making a sweet barehanded play, which I have added as a .gif below.
To recap the scouting reports, Rondon’s defense is his strength. He’s seen as a potentially elite defender at SS, with plus hands, arm and range. This makes him a very intriguing prospect. The bat may also have some potential, with gap power being a possibility down the line.
For Rondon to develop into a solid regular he will need to improve offensively. So far this season Rondon has seen a dramatic improvement in his contact rate (14.2%) and a solid improvement in his BB% (7.1%). The sample size is of course still too small to put any real stock into these numbers. That said, K% typically stabilizes more quickly than BB% (after around 70 PA for K% vs. roughly 160 PA for BB%), so the improved contact rate is perhaps more reliable at this stage. Both will likely regress over the remainder of the season, but if Rondon could maintain this contact rate, then it would be a big boost to his prospect status. A K%<15% could allow him to be a regular .270ish hitter in the Majors with his skill-set. Power has been down this year, as his ISO currently sits a .035. Even if Rondon hits an empty .270 (i.e. minimal walks/power), this, combined with his defensive value, could make him a valuable player.
All four of these players are strong defensively at SS. Andrus has been worth +13 runs above average defensively per year over the course of his career, Ryan has been +14.8 runs above average per year since he became a regular in 2009 and Escobar has been at +9.25. Jose Iglesias’ MLB sample size is much smaller, but he has been worth +11 runs in his 144 games. Based on the scouting reports, we would hope that Rondon has the ability to offer similar defensive value to these four players.
Offensively, Andrus is the best hitter among this group. His career wRC+ is 85 (i.e. 15% below league average), Ryan’s wRC+ is 71, Escobar’s wRC+ is 70 and Iglesias’ wRC+ is 76. I would think Andrus’ 85 wRC+ is out of reach for Rondon. Andrus walks at a much better rate than Rondon (8.1 BB% for MLB career) and his 13.4% K% is also much better than anything Rondon has managed. Andrus’ power (career .075 ISO) could be attainable, especially if the reports of Rondon bulking up are accurate. Ryan (.082 ISO, 7.1 BB%, 16 K%), Escobar (.084 ISO, 4.3 BB%, 13.5 K%) and Iglesias (.080 ISO, 4.1 BB%, 16.1 K%) are probably better comps for Rondon offensively. If we were to combine the weakest element from each player (i.e. Andrus’ power, .075 ISO, Iglesias’ walks, 4.1 BB%, and contact, 16.1 K%) that could give us a reasonable projection for Rondon, though that power level may be optimistic. This would equate to a wRC+<70, but as Escobar proved last year, that doesn’t mean he would be unable to provide positive value to the team. Escobar’s wRC+ last year was 49, yet his WAR was +1.1, such is the power of great defense at SS.
Contact is the key for Rondon. If he wants to get anywhere close to Andrus offensively then his K% needs to be around 15% or lower. If he cannot manage this then it would be difficult to project him as a Major League regular, regardless of his defensive ability. Keeping his BB% in the 7%+ range will help too. Rondon’s future value will also depend on just how good he is defensively. If he turns out to be merely a +3-6 run defender then we will need to adjust our expectations down, but if he’s Andrelton Simmons good (+31 runs above average per 150 games in career to date), then we can adjust expectations up significantly. I assume he was fall somewhere in between. Rondon has only recently turned 20 (April 13), so he still has plenty of time to make the requisite adjustments and improvements at the plate, and I will be watching him with interest.