As White Sox fans wait out the quiet period between the end of the World Series and our team inevitably signing multiple superstars, most of us are probably doing everything we can to put the 2018 season in the rearview mirror. It was a year filled with stupefyingly bad baseball at the major league level and a mix of disappointment/injury in the minors.
One exception? A lightly-regarded January waiver claim from the San Diego Padres by the name of José Rondón, who surprisingly crushed 24 homers between Charlotte and Chicago.
Despite his generally productive year amongst a sea of Charlie Tilsonery and Nicky Delmonicism, Sox Machine readers listed Rondón as a starter on exactly
zero offseason plans one late-arriving offseason plan and only mentioned him at all on about 1/3 of the entries (I confess that I’m part of the 2/3 majority). But the White Sox front office is surely giving him more consideration, as Rondón is out of options so a decision will have to be made about his future with the organization by the end of Spring Training.
The problem is that it’s hard to guess what that future looks like, since Rondón’s production at the plate didn’t at all resemble his minor league track record. On the year, he hit 41 points lower than his career minor league average. His 24 spicy ding dongs more than tripled his previous career high. And he struck out 24% of the time in AAA and 28% of the time in the majors despite never topping 18% in any other season.
Scouts have generally predicted Rondón would turn into a viable major leaguer, but Statcast indicates that the power surge is likely fluky — his average exit velocity was 405th out of 480 players with at least 50 batted balls, though his barrel rate was a much more encouraging 50th. So what exactly do the Sox have on their hands, a future contributor or a fluke?
One player that comes to mind when looking at Rondón’s minor league stats and scouting reports is Marwin Gonzalez. Gonzalez never hit more than 4 home runs in the minors, before developing league-average power in his mid-20’s. Similar to Rondón, he came up as a sure-handed middle infielder with some contact skills. (Even more similar to Rondón, he’s 6’1″, about 200 lbs, and from Venezuela.) But Gonzalez has developed into an impressive super-utility player who was key to Houston’s 2017 World Series run and who’s likely to earn $40+ million this winter.
It’s admittedly farfetched to toss out a 4-win player as a Rondón comp just because they’re both Venezuelan and couldn’t hit for most of their careers. But that’s not the point. We’ve talked a lot about how rebuilding teams need contributions from unexpected places in order to become contenders — aka guys exactly like Marwin Gonzalez. Unfortunately, the Sox’s efforts to find guys like that have been largely unsuccessful so far; the best we’ve seen are Delmonico-like mirages and Daniel Palka-like one trick ponies. But in Rondón they found a player A) for free, B) who produced in 2018, and C) can credibly play the toughest position on the field. That’s a solid starter kit for “diamond in the rough.”
There’s a lot of winter left to go, but assuming the White Sox don’t plug every one of their many holes Rondón deserves a shot to see whether he’s the next Delmonico or the next Gonzalez. And I almost mean that literally — with a largely entrenched infield, the White Sox should consider putting Rondón in leftfield to see if he can hack it any better than Delmonico, at least until Eloy Jimenez comes up. Then they can shift him all around the lineup and see if enough power sticks or enough contact returns to make him a Gonzalez-lite. Assuming Harper and Machado think better of spending the next few years on the South Side, the Sox will have plenty of reps to go around. And there are undoubtedly better uses for those reps than more looks at Matt Davidson or Leury Garcia or any number of players.
What is Jose Rondón? The White Sox should probably find out.
He is a very interesting piece moving forward. I had him competing with Leury for the last roster spot, but he may be more valuable than Leury is. I would certainly be ok with having him fill the Marwin Gonzalez role on the Sox this year.
Lets find out! Especially if the sox dont bring in much via free agency. No reason rodon cant get more starts at third, spot starts at 2nd and ss, and heck even mix him into LF if you have too. Lets see what he does with 400 at bats.
He certainly offers more value than Nicky or Davidson. He can back up all four infield positions. I see 81 stolen bases in the Minors, so he can run a little.
What is José Rondón? Spanish for launch angle.
The next three months will be interesting to see how the Sox sift through Davidson, Leury, and Delmonico for bench positions. Maybe Yolmer as well, if they either get a 3B or think Rondón is worth significant playing time there.
I don’t see much point in holding on to Delmonico if it’s an either/or proposition. He has zero defensive value anywhere and the bat is iffy, plus he’s entering his late twenties. Rondon’s bat is iffy, but he can at least play credible defense at multiple positions while they determine exactly where his offensive profile falls.
I could see Delmonico breaking camp with the Sox and then getting designated for assignment about ten minutes after Eloy Jimenez’s service time dictates. (That could just as easily apply to Tilson.)
My plan may have gotten in too late to influence your post, but I had Rondon as the starting first baseman after we traded Abreu to the Rockies. I think it was lil jimmy’s idea, but I liked it enough and ran with it.
Indeed. Just fixed!
I knew that was a great idea!
Actually my thought is he starts at 3rd when Palka DH’s.When Palka sits, Rondon plays 1st, Abreu DH’s and Yolmer plays 3rd.
I just jettisoned the Silver Slugger, handed Rondon first, and told him to make the most of it or Matty, Palka, Omar, or Yolmer would get a crack.
But your idea is a good one if the roster doesn’t change much.
I definitely am on board to find out if he can become the next Marwin Gonzalez or he is just another Yolmer. I have him as a bench player in my plan. He is versatile and with pop. That’s rare. His OBP is just where the bad news start, but I am willing to give him plenty more rope than just 133 PAs as a major leaguer.
Isn’t it obvious that swinging for the fences (or Todd’sWay as I call it) would result in more dingers and less contact? Until this coaching staff is history, you’re just moving deck chairs.
Rondon, Engel, Yolmer, and even Timmy should be setting the table.
But that ain’t gonna happen, so wake me when it’s over (Or Jerry sells, as I call it).
What an odd takeaway from this post.
Not really, when you consider it’s the same takeaway he has from every post.
The Sox first signing should be Josh Donaldson.
Then, trade Yolmer and get a nice prospect. Rondón fills his, would be, utility spot perfectly and less expensively.
I would think that Jose Rondon, like lots of players these days, sacrificed some of his hit tool for an increase in launch angle. It’s better these days to have a .250 average with some pop than to have a higher average with less strikeouts but less home runs. If the Sox strike out on the superstar players, I’d be fine seeing if Rondon can beat out Yolmer for 3rd base reps.
Great article, Jim.