COLUMBIA, S.C.—At 18 years and 3 months old, Red Sox righthander Roniel Raudes is the second-youngest player in the low Class A South Atlantic League. The only younger player, righthander Anderson Espinoza, is his teammate on the Greenville Drive.
Espinoza has gotten plenty of publicity after his smashing professional debut last season in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. His devastating three-pitch mix inspired rave reviews from scouts and resulted in his placement at No. 19 on this year’s Top 100.
After his first two starts with the Drive, Raudes might start to get some ink, too. He doesn’t have near the stuff as Espinoza, but he pitches with plenty of guts.
“He just throws strikes,” Greenville manager Darren Fenster said. “He’s not a stuff guy, so to speak, like Anderson is. Anderson’s going to stick out because of his arm. Roniel has some pitchability that’s beyond his years right now.
“His fastball is an upper-80s fastball, but he can locate it very, very well. Throws three pitches for strikes and works at a good pace, keeps his defense engaged and doesn’t walk people.”
So far, the Nicaraguan righthander has gone 2-0, 0.90 with nine strikeouts and one walk in 10 innings. On Friday, in his first road start, Raudes went five innings, allowed just one run on three hits, struck out four hitters and walked nobody.
He came close to issuing a walk on three separate occasions, but each time battled back from a 3-0 count to retire the hitter, twice on a strikeout (one swinging, one looking) and once on a high pop-up.
He works primarily with an upper-80s fastball (he peaked at 89 on Friday) with enough life to induce six groundouts and explode two Columbia bats. He’ll also mix in a big-breaking curveball in the low-70s and a changeup with a touch of fade in the low-80s. He got swings-and-misses with all three pitches on Friday.
He also gets help from a deceptive windup. He starts with a move that looks as if he’s cowering from an unseen popup near the mound, then tucks his leg, turns his hip and hides the ball from hitters until he delivers.
Where Espinoza dizzies hitters with upper-90s gas and above-average offspeed pitches, Raudes simply pounds the strike zone with the efficiency and aplomb of a veteran.
“It’s an individual thing. That’s his bread-and-butter is his ability to command the baseball. That’s why he’s in the position that he’s in right now,” Fenster said. “That’s what’s given him success, and he’s going to continue to grow off what he already can do well. He’s here because he belongs here and he’s proven that so far.”
At 18 years old with a January birthday, Raudes, if he were an American, would still be in high school. He’d probably be in the middle of his final quarter, preparing for his last round of final exams before testing his luck in the draft or preparing to head to college.
Instead, he’ll spend his spring and summer traversing the South Atlantic League trying to prove that Espinoza isn’t the only 18-year-old in Greenville’s rotation worth watching.