July 6, 2016 at 8:00 AM
GREENVILLE, S.C. -- Over the course of the season, the Greenville Drive has become arguably the deepest, most interesting team in the Red Sox farm system, with several potential big leaguers both on the mound and at the plate. Over the July 4th weekend, I was able to travel down to South Carolina and take in all four games of a weekend series between the Drive and the Asheville Tourists. This entry kicks off my reports from the trip, breaking down the second-youngest member of the Drive pitching staff.
After an impressive 2015, right-hander Roniel Raudes received what was thought to be an aggressive assignment, skipping over Lowell and starting the year as the second-youngest player in the South Atlantic League, behind only teammate Anderson Espinoza. Raudes has shown he was more than ready to handle the aggressive assignment, putting up a very respectable 3.80 era and 1.18 whip in 66.1 innings, with 63 strikeouts to just 13 walks, earning a selection to the South Atlantic League All-Star Game.
Even though he is only eighteen years old, Raudes does not have as much projection as you might think given his age. He is very skinny at present, listed at 6-foot-1, 160 pounds. As he physically matures, he will get stronger and add some size, but he has a slim waist and does not look to have a frame that could support significant added weight. Raudes throws from the first base side of the rubber with a controlled, repeatable delivery from an over-the-top arm slot. He has a quirky start from the wind-up, crouching down and keeping his glove over his head and wiggling it around before returning to his normal starting position for his delivery (see video below). He starts his true delivery open with his lead leg off towards the first base bag. He tucks his leg under his front side during his medium leg kick and has a short arm action. His arm works and he does a good job keeping it directly behind his body until very late, keeping hitters from picking the ball up until late in the delivery. He gets good extension, which combined with the deception allows his fastball to play up.
These mechanical traits are important because Raudes sits at just 87-89 mph with his fastball, topping out at 91 mph. He came out 89-91 mph in the first inning, but settled in at 88-89, before dipping down to 86-88 later on in his six innings of work. He stays within himself, not trying to overthrow, and even as he matures I am not sure he is going to add much velocity. He does a good job manipulating the ball, with the pitch showing cut at times and tail when he worked down in the zone. Even though he has below-average velocity, Raudes still showed the ability to pitch above barrels and got ten swing-and-misses with the pitch, recording four of his seven strikeouts with the pitch as well. He showed advanced control of the offering and the ability to command the ball both up-and-down and in-and-out, depending on the situation. He did make one mistake with the pitch, leaving an 89-mph fastball middle-up to the Asheville cleanup hitter, who put it out over the green monster in left field for a two-run home run, the only runs Raudes allowed. Even with the lack of velocity, when combined with his feel for his secondaries, command profile, and deception, the pitch plays as an average offering.
In past looks, Raudes’ best secondary pitch has been his curveball, but on this day his changeup was working better. Raudes threw the pitch consistently at 83-85 mph, with the pitch showing late fade, especially when he kept it down in the zone. He throws it with good, deceptive arm speed and maintains that speed throughout. Raudes got four swing-and-misses against the changeup, and it was especially effective early in the game when he struggled to find feel for his curveball. This was the best the pitch has looked for me, and it was effective against both right-handed and left-handed hitters. With continued refinement and continued reps, I can envision the pitch developing into at least an average offering and potentially more than that.
Although Raudes had trouble throwing his curveball for strikes, especially in the first few innings, you could still see the rotation and that he could spin it. The pitch has long, 12-to-6 break and depth through the zone when he really snaps it off. At the start, he was not snapping it consistently, though, and as a result was leaving it up and out of the zone. He threw the pitch 72-76 mph, with it showing the above-described vertical break at the lower velocity range and becoming a sweepier version at higher velocities with more tilt. This sweepier version resulted from dropping his arm slot a tick, coming more from the side. As the game went on, Raudes seemed to get his feel back for the offering, and he incorporated it more the second time through the order, at one point throwing five in a row to a hitter. Based on past looks and how it looked a few times in the later innings, it is not a stretch to project the pitch to develop into a plus offering.
Raudes threw a few pitches at 83-84 mph that might have been short sliders or just changeups he cut. In past looks, he has not shown this pitch, however, and as a result I think they were more likely changeups. However, I would not rule out him trying out a slider to give another look down the road.
Raudes is one of the more unique prospects in the system given his youth, performance to date, and relatively advanced three-pitch mix. He has solid mound presence and goes right after hitters, even though he does not throw that hard. Long-term, even if Raudes does not add much velocity, just by getting stronger and physically maturing he should be able to sit in the 89-91 mph range. Given his youth, it would not be a surprise if he had some hiccups along the way, especially when he starts facing more advanced hitters who will lay off his secondaries and look for him to make a mistake with his fastball. With an average fastball, solid command profile, and two average-to-plus secondary offerings, he has the makings of a back-end starter, which would be a great success given he signed for only $250,000 out of Nicaragua.
Photo credit: Roniel Raudes by Kelly O'Connor
Ian Cundall is Director of Scouting for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @IanCundall.