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BruceRondonYou don’t often find interesting relief pitching prospects in the mid-to-low levels of the minor leagues, but flame throwing right-hander Bruce Rondon has gained the attention of prospect rankers. He was named one of the Tigers’ top ten prospects by Baseball Prospectus (#7) and MLB.com (#6), and a top twenty prospect by FanGraphs (#14), Motor City Bengals (#15), and TigsTown (#19).

If you glance at his career strikeout numbers, it’s impossible not to see the potential. Since coming to the United States from Venezuela to play baseball, Rondon has struck out 127 batters in 93.2 innings of work. That’s an incredible rate of over 12 per nine innings.

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The 21 year old is at the Advanced-A level this season, and his strikeout numbers are just as impressive as ever. He’s pitched just 10 innings so far as the primary ninth-inning man for the Lakeland Flying Tigers, and he’s already fanned 18 batters. But, as is often the case with hard-throwing prospects (Rondon has a fastball that sits in the 94-98 mph range), he’s still a bit raw. He’s walked seven batters in his ten innings this year, and he walked 34 in 40 innings with West Michigan last year.

But, as Al Alburquerque proved to us last season, a pitcher with an elevated walk rate can still be effective so long as he also keeps the strikeout rate silly-high. That’s been the case so far for Rondon (a similar fastball-slider pitcher) who has a career 2.22 ERA (and a 3.06 FIP) in full-season leagues (with a K/9 rate of 13.7 and a BB/9 rate of 6.3). Those rate stats are amazingly similar to Alburquerque’s 2011 rates of 13.9 and 6.0.

Batters don’t hit Rondon all that well, he’s allowed only 53 hits in his 93.2 (stateside) minor league innings, but the walk rate has still caused his WHIP to creep to 1.26 (though it’s been higher the last two years). Generally, you’d like to see a WHIP of 1.20 or less (and definitely less for a top reliever), so Rondon will have to plenty to work on as he climbs the minor league ladder.

Matt Snyder is the editor of The Tigers Den. He can be reached on Twitter @snyder_matthew.