Rays' Rondon hits first three pro homers

Just 17, shortstop sets career high with nine-RBI night for Princeton

Adrian Rondon hit .166/.256/.234 with eight doubles in 43 Gulf Coast League games last year. (Cliff Welch/MiLB.com)

By Josh Jackson / MiLB.com | June 25, 2016 1:39 AM

Undeniably, 19th-ranked Tampa Bay prospect Adrian Rondon put on an incredible performance Friday night, but his manager was more pleased about the process that enabled that performance.

"I'm more excited about him taking at-bats the way he has been," Princeton's Danny Sheaffer said, "and the way he's been playing shortstop and the way he's been showing maturity than I am about the nine RBIs and three home runs."

The three dingers were the first ones of Rondon's young career and his nine RBIs paced the Rookie-level Rays to a 16-2 drumming of the Royals at Burlington. The 17-year-old shortstop had never previously plated more than two in a pro game.

"I've been in the game 36 years, 18 as a player and 18 as a manager, and I've never seen anything like it," Sheaffer said. "He's not going to be able to continue [to generate results at that rate], but he's going to be ready to play."

Rondon -- who turns 18 on July 7 -- signed with the Rays out of the Dominican Republic on his 16th birthday and played last season in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. Friday's game was his second above the complex level, and Sheaffer, who worked with him during Spring Training and extended spring camp over the past two years, is eager to see how he handles the season.

"Quite frankly, I'm excited because he's getting out of complex ball. He's playing under lights, where games matter, where there's a teammate situation in a professional ball setting where it's not controlled," the manager said. "He's maturing, and we're taking it day by day. It's a process. Keep in mind, he's 17 years old. Most kids his age are taking their SATs, and he's playing professional ball."

While Rondon didn't go yard over 145 at-bats last year and MLB Pipeline rates his power a 50 on the 20-80 scouting scale, Sheaffer said the youngster has shown an ability to drive the ball.

"I'm not sure the Gulf Coast League is a good barometer for home runs to come," he said. "Quite possibly, none of the balls he hit tonight would have been out in the Gulf Coast League, but he hit them very well. And profiles are projections -- they're not exact. He squares the ball up pretty good.

"The one thing that keeps coming up -- he's 17 years old. He's hitting balls that most kids can't handle. But I'm excited because he's shown me maturity over last three or four months that's been unprecedented. Hopefully we can keep going in this direction and steer him forward."

The right-handed hitter went the opposite way with a line drive for a two-run jack in the opening inning, and in the sixth he smacked a three-run no-doubter to left. His eighth-inning bases-clearer impressed Sheaffer the most, not because it was a grand slam, but because Rondon's focus after a 30-minute rain delay before the bottom of the seventh.

"I don't think there's any doubt about that. He's got a heads-up about him that I didn't see in Spring Training or extended spring training," Sheaffer said. "He's in the game for nine innings. He's paying attention, and the fact that even after a 30-minute rain delay, still with the bases loaded, he took a breaking ball for a strike, stepped out and hit the next fastball 385 feet ..."

The Princeton manager said he believes if Rondon continues to mature at this pace, he'll develop into "something special."

"You have to give a lot of credit to the guys who have been on him the last two years. [GCL coach] Hector Torres, [GCL manager] Jim Morrison and [Minor League field coordinator] Jimmy Hoff have been very encouraging for him," Sheaffer said. "You say, 'Sometimes guys take longer than others [to mature],' but that doesn't apply to him. He's only 17. He's ahead of the curve."

Rondon's reaction went a long way toward showing that in his skipper's eyes.

"I also saw a little reservation in the way he celebrated. His teammates were more excited than he was," Sheaffer said. "I would not have guessed in a million years that he has not hit a professional home run until tonight."

Rafelin Lorenzo went 3-for-6 with three RBIs and three runs scored while falling a triple shy of the cycle for Princeton.

Josh Jackson is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @JoshJacksonMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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