BURLINGTON, N.C.—After signing with the Rays for $2.95 million as the top prospect in the international class in 2014, Adrian Rondon‘s prospect status took a ding in 2015 in his pro debut.
He ranked dead last among qualified hitters in batting (.166) and finished second in the Gulf Coast League in strikeouts (57). The plus bat speed was still evident, but the gap between his ceiling and his present ability seemed so large that it was difficult to envision him living up to his projections. Still just 17—he turns 18 on July 7—questions arose about whether he’d ever show the ability to use his tools.
On Friday night, in Rondon’s second game at Rookie-level Princeton—his second pro game outside of complex baseball—he had a historic night, smashing three home runs and driving in nine runs.
In his first plate appearance, the righthanded-hitting Rondon went with an outside fastball, driving it hard and high into the air and over the wall in right field, an impressive display of opposite field power for a 17-year-old.
Rondon grounded out to shortstop in his second trip to the plate, reaching first base in 4.36 seconds, a near-average time.
Rondon’s second blast was a no-doubter, a bomb pulled to left field, a three-run home run.
“I was going up there looking for a good pitch to swing at,” Rondon told Baseball America via interpreter Jean Ramirez, one of Princeton’s catchers. “The previous at-bat, I wasn’t feeling great about it. So I went up looking for a good pitch, and that happened.”
But he wasn’t done. He drew an impressive walk in the seventh inning after falling behind and working a count. Rondon showed an impressive understanding of the strike zone on Friday night. He did chase a couple of high fastballs in the game, but he also demonstrated a refined two-strike approach. It was a dominant performance through that point, but things would get even better for Rondon in his fifth and final plate appearance.
With the bases loaded, Rondon launched another ball out to left field in the eighth inning, a grand slam. After recording just 11 RBIs in 43 games in 2015, Rondon drove in nine runs on Friday alone. It’d be easy to get excited, but Rondon recognizes that this performance is only one small step on his journey to the big leagues.
“I’m going to continue to work hard and keep doing my thing,” Rondon said. “I’m not going to let this game get into my head. I’ll keep doing my thing, and God willing, I can keep my confidence up.”
Rondon wasn’t the only prospect to show well on Friday night. Lefthander Resly Linares is a highly projectable prospect. He showed flashes of command with his 89-92 mph fastball on Friday night, and his deep 1-to-7 curveball showed deep break and flashes of tight spin. He threw a changeup sparingly. Linares is beginning to establish himself as a top prospect in the Rays’ system. After a remarkable professional debut in the Dominican Summer League in 2015, Linares made the jump past the Gulf Coast League straight to the Appalachian League this summer, a move the Rays rarely make.
Linares has a loose and live arm and stands at a listed 6-foot-2 and 165 pounds. He has wide, square shoulders and skinny legs, with plenty of room to fill out and add muscle as he matures. Linares will play this entire season at just 18 years old.
Following Linares, righthander Sandy Brito showed an electric fastball, sitting at 93-96. He located the pitch at times, but will need to continue refining his command going forward.