Welcome to another edition of The Kids Are Alright. This week we will discuss some very valuable pieces for the fantasy owner who wants to stay competitive. If you're looking for a closer, this one's for you.
This week we have Detroit closer Bruce Rondon, Philadelphia catcher Tommy Joseph, and Cubs infielder Junior Lake. These three have a common link in being young guys with a lot of development either behind them or ahead of them and all have outstanding tools that could be worth the wait.
Bruce Rondon, RHP, DET - Rondon has two key tools a closer needs to succeed: a blazing fastball and a bulldog demeanor on the mound. The final key to Rondon's ascent to the Detroit bullpen is control, which has eluded him throughout his career.
Rondon is a curious case. He's the rare baseball player who has thrived after gaining weight. I'm not talking bulking up via protein shakes and the weight room. Rondon went from about 190 to nearly 300 pounds (Rondon not stands at 265 lbs) a year after he signed with the Tigers and a major boost in velocity followed. He regularly throws 97-100 and introduced himself to the world with a 102 MPH offering at the Futures Game last July. His fastball would be killer just on its velocity merits, but it also has great late movement. Rondon works with an improving slider at 81-86 MPH, giving him a deadly two-pitch combo.
The early problems of Rondon's career have been slowly falling away. The poor control improved a lot in 2012, when he had his best strikeouts-to-walks ratio of his career (66:26). He's had problems in the past with a max effort delivery, but he looked great last year with a combined 2.25 ERA and 66 strikeouts in 53 innings split between three levels. Rondon has looked better and better since he moved to relief full time in the 2010 season.
Detroit's bullpen is deep and Phil Coke is a fine closer, but Rondon's potential is hard to ignore. He's a closer in the mold of Fernando Rodney and Francisco Rodriguez: a guy who looks like he can eat glass and a guy who will light up the radar gun. He'll probably start out in Triple-A Toldeo again, but once the Tigers need a closer, Rondon's on his way to Detroit.
Keep in mind that Rondon is only 22 and doesn't turn 23 until next December, so he has time to figure out the final piece.
Tommy Joseph, C, PHI - Joseph came over from the Giants to the Phillies at the trade deadline last July in exchange for Hunter Pence. He was blocked in the Giants system with a ton of catching prospects ahead of him. I saw three elite catching prospects come through San Jose in the last four years (four if you count Pablo Sandoval) - Buster Posey, Hector Sanchez, and Joseph - and I never thought Joseph could pass Posey on the depth chart. Joseph was basically trade bait from the start.
Joseph was a first-round pick for the Giants in 2009 and had tremendous raw power. He hit well for power in A-ball and performed better than expected defensively as a catcher. I never bought into the idea that he was a defensive liability. I saw him play in San Jose in 2011 and saw good catching instincts from him. That said, he's much more valuable as a power-hitting catcher than a first baseman. Both the Giants and Phillies moved away from the idea of Joseph at first. He wouldn't fit at first base anyway, with Ryan Howard already there and top 10 prospect Darin Ruf right behind.
Unfortunately Joseph's power fell off in 2012 in both Double-A stops for him in Richmond (Giants) and Reading (Phillies) and he had a bad Arizona Fall League season, hitting .204 with zero power.
Carlos Ruiz's suspension puts Joseph center stage in 2013. Regular Phillies catcher Ruiz has to serve a 25-game suspension for a second positive test for amphetamines (Adderall, if you must know), a stimulant banned by MLB. In addition, Ruiz's contract is up at the end of the year so Joseph could get an early audition for the starting job with Ruiz's trouble.
The catching situation in Philly is dire with Ruiz out and Sebastian Valle's lack of development, so Joseph could get the catching job in 2013 with a good spring season. At worst he'd platoon with Valle this year.
At age 21 (22 in July), Joseph is still young enough to wait for him to get it together, especially since he has yet to play in Triple-A.
Junior Lake, SS/3B, CHC - Lake's breakout season in the AFL in 2011 was supposed to push him to the top of the Cubs prospect list for 2012. Lake had a so-so year in Double-A Tennessee and is still struggling with plate discipline, so he's still a bit behind schedule.
Lake has many plus tools: bat speed, strength, raw power, baserunning instincts, and arm strength. He's tall at 6'3" and his size might force him away from shortstop, not to mention the fact that Starlin Castro has a firm hold on the position in Chicago. Javier Baez, the top rated Cubs prospect for 2013, is also a shortstop who could move to third. Jeimer Candelario is another third base candidate who will move with Lake through the system. Lake's best bet is a move to a corner outfield position. Right field would be ideal, with Nate Schierholtz as the new starter for Chicago. Schierholtz is not a long-term plan for the Cubs. Trust me on this one. I waited years for Schierholtz to become a long-term plan for the Giants.
Lake hit well for Estrellas in the Dominican League this winter: .312 with five home runs, but again his high strikeouts and low walks were an issue. His tools are good enough to keep the Cubs interested. It's a matter of finding a position for him. He'll be challenged at Triple-A Iowa and if the soon-to-be 23-year-old can solve his strikeout problems and meet his power potential, he could be the Cubs' starting right fielder in 2014.
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