Spotlight will be on Rondon in Tigers' spring training

The SportsXchange

The spotlight of spring training is going to be shining largely on rookie Bruce Rondon.

The almost-anointed successor to departed Jose Valverde as Detroit's closer was the subject of the most questions as the Tigers began their winter publicity caravan prior to last weekend.

Rondon, 22, has yet to throw a pitch in the majors but when he does the radar gun will likely clock it between 100 and 103 mph. The beefy rookie also has a quality slider.

"He's unproven," GM Dave Dombrowski said. "We're not anointing him. But he's a leading candidate for the job, which we think he can do."

Rondon went through three levels of Detroit's farm system last year and put up quality numbers at each. He was not called up in September, although the Tigers freely admit he would have been had they known Valverde was going to melt down in the postseason.

He saved nine Winter League games in 18 outings, striking out 19 and walking six in 16 1/3 innings. His 4.41 ERA was bloated by two bad outings in which he allowed nine of his 16 winter hits.

"One thing about it is that he has talent and I like talent," manager Jim Leyland said. "I don't care how old he is. We're going to give him the opportunity, see how he does, and play it by ear.

"If he throws it over the plate at 100 miles an hour, he'll do fine. It's a neat situation, and I'm excited about it, but it's one about which you have a little anxiety.

"He won't know I'm spending a lot of time with him in spring training, but I will be -- to get a feel for how he thinks," Leyland added. "Is he going to be able to turn the page if he blows one early in the season? Those are things you just don't know until they happen.

"We'll give him opportunities. We're not going to get crazy with it. Hopefully, he'll save a couple. If he looks real good, save another one. If he looks fragile, we'll use someone else for a day and break him in."

Detroit has a safety net of Joaquin Benoit, Octavio Dotel and Phil Coke, who are inconsistent closers but have experience in doing it.

"When something bad happens, he'll get a little wild and overthrow," Dombrowski said of Rondon, the most asked-about Tigers prospect this winter. "But we hope with our veteran catchers they're going to be able to stop that."
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