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Starter Or Reliever, That Is The Romero Question

It is a conversation with every hard-throwing pitching prospect in baseball. Can he make it to the big leagues as a starter, or does he need to be moved to the bullpen? Fernando Romero has found himself in that situation for a while now, and it is likely that decision will ultimately be made in 2019. Will Romero get another opportunity to start, or will be be moved to the bullpen.
Image courtesy of Jay Biggerstaff, USA Today
Why do the Twins need to make a determination on Fernando Romero so quickly? We’ll get to that, but first, let’s take a look at his background, why he should remain a starter, and why the bullpen could be an option for him as well.

Regardless, it will be interesting to see what Derek Falvey, Thad Levine, Rocco Baldelli, Wes Johnson and Jeremy Heffner end up doing with Fernando Romero and the pitching staff in 2010.

BACKGROUND

Fernando Romero burst on the prospect scene way back in 2013 when he debuted stateside with the GCL Twins. Over 45 innings, Romero posted a 1.60 ERA, a 1.00 WHIP, and struck out 47 batters while walking just 13. In 2014, he was quickly promoted to Cedar Rapids. However, after just three starts he was shut down and had to undergo Tommy John surgery. He missed the rest of 2014 and all of 2015. His return was slowed by a knee injury in 2015.

Early in 2016, Romero returned and went to the Kernels. However, he made just five starts and went 4-1 with a 1.93 ERA. In 28 innings, he walked just five and struck out 25 batters. He moved up to Ft. Myers and continued to pitch well. In 11 starts, he went 5-2 with a 1.88 ERA and a 0.93 WHIP. Over 62 1/3 innings, he walked 10 and struck out 65 batters.

With the strong showing and his prospect status, it was an easy decision to add him to the 40-man roster in November of 2016. Twins Daily named him the #1 Twins Prospect heading into the 2017 season.

In 2017, Romero spent the season at Double-A Chattanooga. He pitched 125 innings over 24 games (23 starts). He went 11-9 with a 3.53 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP. He walked 45 and struck out 120. Prior to the 2018 season, he was ranked by Twins Daily as the #2 Twins Prospect. (It took having the #1 overall draft pick to move Romero down to #2.)

For the second straight year, Romero began the season by impressing the Twins coaching staff and front office with a strong spring training. He began the season in Rochester. On May 2nd, Romero was called up to make his major league debut. He tossed 5 2/3 scoreless innings against the Toronto Blue Jays to earn his first win. His next outing was in St. Louis and he threw six shutout frames to improve to 2-0. After making ten starts, he was optioned to Rochester and made just one start for the Twins the rest of the season (mid-July). Overall with the Twins, he went 3-3 with a 4.69 ERA, a 1.42 WHIP. At Rochester, he went 5-6 with a 3.57 ERA but a 1.29 WHIP. Combined, he worked 146 1/3 innings.


STARTER

So why should the Twins continue to give him an opportunity to start? There are several reasons. First, he had a pretty good showing early in his big-league career as a starter. In his first five starts, he went 2-1 with a 1.88 ERA. In 28 2/3 innings, he struck out 29 batters.

Not only did he put up solid numbers, he showed really good stuff. His fastball sat between 92 and 95 mph and touched 96 and even 97 at times, and he maintained that through the first five innings. He did show a good breaking ball early, something that those who watched his Triple-A didn’t see consistently. He also showed a solid changeup most of the time. He spent the full season at age 23. One thought would be to continue the development as a starter, hoping that he could find more consistency with his breaking pitches and changeup.

Despite missing two years, Romero was able to reach 146 1/3 innings in 2018. Ideally, with a 20% increase, he could jump up to 175 innings, a real solid number for a mid-to-late, young starting pitcher.

Over Romero’s final six starts with the team, he went 1-2 with a 7.67 ERA and a 1.74 WHIP in 27 innings.


BULLPEN

2019 is a crucial season for this decision to be made thanks to the rules of the Rule 5 draft. The Twins had to add Romero to their 40-man roster in November of 2016, so he used up option years in 2017 and 2018. If optioned in 2019, he would be out of options starting in 2020.

At Twins Fest, Derek Falvey would not commit to Romero being moved to the bullpen, even after the addition of Martin Perez. “I wouldn’t say that’s a definite at this point, but I would say that he is definitely an option (for the bullpen).”

There are several factors that go into this kind of decision, but the eye test tells people that Romero could be a force in the bullpen. And that’s something that Falvey acknowledged as well. “Fernando is someone who you watch the first few innings and you think, ‘that could be pretty special out of the bullpen.’ That’s something we’ve always talked about.”

There are varying opinions on what is best for pitchers who have had Tommy John surgery, so that’s another factor according to the Twins Chief Baseball Officer. “It’s a balance. You want to think about what’s best for his health. What’s best for his long-term? He is somebody who has history with Tommy John surgery. Is there some benefit to him working out of the bullpen?”

That’s part of it, but Falvey continued with the other part of the balance. “Certainly developing third pitch and getting some more variation to his repertoire is important if he is going to continue being a starter.”

Don’t forget, as so many Twins fans recall, the Johan Santana spent a couple of seasons in the Twins bullpen, used in a variety of roles, before joining the starting rotation in 2004 (his first Cy Young season).

There is a lot of truth to the old saying that most of the best relief pitchers in baseball were starters early in their career. A look at some of the top relievers in Twins history certainly shows that. Joe Nathan, Rick Aguilera, Eddie Guardado and Glen Perkins were all starting pitchers early in their careers. Even top relievers such as JC Romero, Juan Rincon, LaTroy Hawkins and others made starts early in their big league years.


THE FIFTH STARTER SPOT

I think most would agree that Jose Berrios, Kyle Gibson, Jake Odorizzi and Michael Pineda are at least penciled into the Opening Day starting rotation. They may not need a fifth starter for a little while either, but at some point, they will need one. Martin Perez will most likely be on the Opening Day roster and is the favorite for the fifth starter spot as we speak. But there are several candidates for that spot. Some will certainly head to Rochester to start the season, but the bullpen just might be an opportunity for some of the pitchers as well.

As the Twins CBO, Falvey needs to think about the big picture to the 2019 season and beyond. He needs to factor in a lot of things such as contracts, options, injuries and more. He notes, “We don’t know exactly what our team will look like on Opening Day. The reality is we’ll have injuries - hopefully less than last year - but we’ll have injuries. We’ll have struggles. We’re going to have to find ways to get those guys to step up. I think about someone like Stephen Gonsalves, or Kohl Stewart, or Fernando Romero, or Zack Littell, or Adalberto Mejia. All those guys will compete to be potential starting options for us, but if we stay healthy, maybe there’s an opportunity for those guys in the ‘pen.”


YOUR TURN

What will happen? How do you foresee this situation playing out. Consider what might happen as well if there is an injury. Who would you think would be the next in line?


Specifically, what would you do with Fernando Romero? Clearly he’s got good fastball velocity and the potential to have three good pitches. We likely all agree that getting 175 innings out of a pitcher is probably more valuable than getting 60 to 70 innings from a reliever. Obviously Adalberto Mejia being out of options factors into decisions on him. Does Romero having just one option remaining force their hand and push a decision more quickly? Should it? What other factors would be instrumental in your decision?

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53 Comments

Questions What is his current breaking ball? If he starts at Rochester, does that count as using up an option? If he’s kept on the 40 man, isn’t he immune from the Rule 5 draft? My opinion would be to begin the year in the minors until and if he can develop at least an average third and maybe fourth pitch.
    • by jiminy and BJames like this
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ToddlerHarmon
Feb 11 2019 07:00 AM
Considering the lack of contracts to starters after 2019, whatever the Twins do, they must not foreclose on him being part of the 2020 rotation. I expect that by the second half of of 2019, he is either a reliever on a contending Twins team, or a starter on a Twins team that is playing for next year.
    • gil4, goulik, mikelink45 and 3 others like this

The problem of moving Romero to the pen permanently, is that if they Twins do that, they will be running out of starting prospects who are close with top of the rotation potential.Given the fact that the organization appears allergic to trading prospects for top of the rotation pitchers, this can signal future trouble.

 

That said, a move to the pen is not a permanent situation.It took Chris Sale dominating in the pen for 2 seasons before he became an ace.I think that a year in the pen for Romero working towards becoming a better pitcher might do wonders for his development as a starter.  

 

Four of the penciled in rotation arms this season are free agents next off-season, so there will be plenty of room for Romero.

    • Steve Lein, USAFChief, jorgenswest and 12 others like this

It doesn't have to be either or, Seth,

 

He could be used every fourth or fifth game as a long reliever.Come in for one of the starters who doesn't pitch deep into games and finish their game.That could give him three to five innings in say 30+ games during the year...say 135+/- innings.Would likely not see the lineup turn over for a third time which should lead to success for him and the Twins.Would also set him up, innings wise, for being a starter in 2020.  

 

A side benefit would be that the rest of a seven man bullpen would get a day off and save wear and tear on everyone else.

    • IndianaTwin, dbminn, RaymondLuxuryYacht and 2 others like this

Romero needs to be a starter till he fails.We don't need him in the Pen as a inning filler.He needs to work on the change-up at AAA.I've got no problem bring him him up later in the year to fill either spot (relief or start).If you'r worried about an option, bring him up later and keep him up.I'm think that if he starts in the Pen, all he'll do is try to throw harder and this does him little good at this point in his career.  

    • scottz, mikelink45, gman and 1 other like this

I think it makes sense to allow Romero to pitch out of the pen this year and then next year, when we will be looking for starting pitchers, he can move into the rotation.

 

By pitching out of the pen this year, it allows him to 1) dominate (hopefully) with the stuff he has, 2) work on his change-up and breaking stuff so that he has 3 solid pitches (or more) for when he transitions back to the starting role in 2020 and 3) to learn and observe from the veteran starting pitchers an how they prepare, how they attach major league hitters and how they maintain between starts.

    • DocBauer, caninatl04 and MN_ExPat like this

 

Questions What is his current breaking ball? If he starts at Rochester, does that count as using up an option? If he’s kept on the 40 man, isn’t he immune from the Rule 5 draft? My opinion would be to begin the year in the minors until and if he can develop at least an average third and maybe fourth pitch.

 

If you is optioned at any point this season,, including during spring training, his 2019 option is used (with some contingencies in there about when he is recalled). Whether he's optioned once of 10 times,, his option year will be used. 

 

Yes, players on the 40-man roster are immune from the Rule 5.

    • caninatl04 likes this

Would prefer as a starter, but think it is more important to have him develop at the major league level and help the Twins win this year.He could move back to starting, but sending him to Rochester to me does little good. If he dominates there, what will the Twins do?.So use him in long relief to start and move to starting if one of the starters fails or you can trade one.

    • DocBauer likes this

Starter.For me no debate.Use him in the pen for 2 - 3 months, but have him in the rotation by All Star break.He has the best stuff of all our list of potential starters and that includes Perez who I would not have signed.He and Berrios are the top of the future rotations so lets not waste the talent or stifle his growth of a third strong pitch.

    • DocBauer, ken, cmoss84 and 2 others like this

I'm going to give Wes Johnson the benefit of the doubt on this one. If Romero is ready, as either a RP or SP, he should be on the major league roster. If Johnson tries to improve his mechanics and/or changeup, he might need a little while at AAA to put it together as a SP.

 

Romero could work on these issues with the Twins, but Perez took away a roster spot. If it comes down to Romero or Mejia, they probably keep the latter because he's out of options. 

 

    • Minny505 and Original Whizzinator like this

I believe Romero will be in the pen this year to start the season, and I'm OK with that. Likely the best place for him in 2019.

 

It doesn't have to be forever.

    • Carole Keller, Steve Lein, Blake and 11 others like this

 

Romero needs to be a starter till he fails.We don't need him in the Pen as a inning filler.He needs to work on the change-up at AAA.I've got no problem bring him him up later in the year to fill either spot (relief or start).If you'r worried about an option, bring him up later and keep him up.I'm think that if he starts in the Pen, all he'll do is try to throw harder and this does him little good at this point in his career.  

 

The only scenario he doesn't use an option is if he's on the opening day roster and they never send him down. Anyone on the 40-man who isn't part of the opening day 25-man active roster is using an option year.

 

Does that change anything for you?

 

Personally, I want him on the opening day roster. Hopefully that means he earned a starter spot, but I won't be disappointed if he's in the bullpen. He's not out of chances to be a starter, so I don't fret about that, even if I think he ends up in the bullpen for good eventually.

    • USAFChief, Twins33, caninatl04 and 1 other like this
Because the rotation is full and we have a lot of depth I want to put him in the pen. The best 12/13 pitchers should be on the roster and he is definitely that.
    • caninatl04 likes this

I hope that him being a starter is still in their long term plans.

 

I assume that Perez has the 5th spot to start the season unless something significant happens in spring training.In that case I would rather Romero starts the season in kind of a swingman role in the majors than as a starter in the minors.And I would also hope that Romero would be stretched out into a starting role when someone goes down with an injury (when is the last time we've been trough an entire season without one of the starters going down for a significant amount of time), or if their plans for Pineda or Perez change due to ineffectiveness or some other circumstance.

I see no reason to have him the minors, I like the idea of the Johan, Liriano, Sale type of role at first, he either is so good they can't keep him out of the rotation, or he settles in nicely as a relief pitcher.

Starter, even if you have to send him down for awhile. They can find bullpen guys anywhere, bullpen arms are the most volitile position in all of baseball. Berrios did not have a first good year at all and they kept him in the rotation, I don't think the bullpen is necessarily the best place for a guy who has has arm issues. Bullpen guys never know when they are pitching they never know how long etc.... A starter is on a routine with pen sessions etc. If he's not one of the 5 - 6 starters send him down keep him in a routine so as to get the most out of him when it's time to.

If we're questioning starter versus reliever roles, I'd rather keep Romero in a starting role and have Perez take up the reliever slot.

    • BJames likes this

 I'm getting old(er), so I may be off my rocker, but here's my take.Romero starts the year at Rochester as a starter while they sort out guys like Perez, Gonsalves, Stewart, Mejia, etc..By June 1, he'll be added to the 25-man as a reliever as Falvine continues to figure out what (if anything) it has in the afore mentioned guys .In 2020, with FA starters gone, he comes to spring training and is given a chance to crack the rotation.

    • scottz likes this

I believe Romero will be in the pen this year to start the season, and I'm OK with that. Likely the best place for him in 2019.

It doesn't have to be forever.

This. I'd like him in the two inning role after Odo and Pineda or whomever finishes their five or six innings. Let's see if he has that third pitch or not.

My thinking has evolved, as starters go less innings... A great multi inning RP has great value.
    • Steve Lein, Twins33, Sconnie and 3 others like this
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Tom Froemming
Feb 11 2019 10:11 AM

I'd stick Pineda and Perez in the bullpen and put Romero and Mejia in the rotation.

    • scottz, Sconnie, DocBauer and 3 others like this

...Romero could be a force in the bullpen. And that’s something that Falvey acknowledged as well. “Fernando is someone who you watch THE FIRST FEW INNINGS and you think, ‘that could be pretty special out of the bullpen.'’

 

Doesn't this make it sound that there are questions about his stamina...how long he can maintain his velocity/stuff on any given outing? That no matter the development of pitches, he may simply be significantly more effective as a reliever than a starter?

 

That's what it sounds like they're saying to me. But it seems early in his development to be making that conclusion...at least definitively. And I don't know how you answer that question without keeping him in a starting role to see if the added year, and further distance from the TJ, moves that needle.

    • BJames likes this

You can try him out in the bullpen, but it would be an absolute waste if he doesn't have the physical ability to pitch on back to back days (not everyone does).

Good pitchers are good pitchers. Failed starters frequently make good relievers. Failed relievers NEVER make goods starters. Start him in the pen. If he dominates and you need rotation help, stretch him out. He'll have more time to develop pitches ot of the pen anyway.
    • Danchat, ewen21 and Tomj14 like this

 

Would prefer as a starter, but think it is more important to have him develop at the major league level and help the Twins win this year.He could move back to starting, but sending him to Rochester to me does little good. If he dominates there, what will the Twins do?.So use him in long relief to start and move to starting if one of the starters fails or you can trade one.

The problem with using him in the majors as a reliever is that he will concentrate on using his best pitches, to get people out. What he needs to do is improve his secondary pitches.You can't do that in the majors, with games on the line.

 

That's what the minor leagues are for. If the goal is to succeed as a starter, keep him in AAA, where he can focus on improving his secondary pitches. Only in the minors can he afford to use his least effective pitches, even when it's not the best way to get batters out. That's exactly what he needs to do: Throw lots of curveballs and sliders, even if it means getting knocked around a little. And when they stop hitting them, THEN he's ready for the majors. And he'll arrive with four pitches, as good as he can make them without facing MLB hitters, and take it from there.

 

I don't get why people say he'll improve faster in the majors, and is wasting his time in the minors. Can he work on his weaker off speed pitches in real games? Maybe I'm wrong, and he can work on his other pitches on the side, while going fastball/slider in games. I don't see it though. At some point he needs to use them to improve.

 

To me, the only real justification for stunting the development of a potential starter is if you're in a pennant race. If every out counts, and you've got a fireballer who can help you in the pen right now, sure, screw the future and go for it. But for where the Twins are now, I would say, If you want to make him a reliever, do it because you're sure he'll never master a changeup or a curve. But if there's still hope, give the guy a chance to reach his potential. If our real window is a year or two away, do what gives you the best chance of turning him into a top of the line starter. And if he's not ready yet, do what you can to get him there. Which is to focus on his secondary pitches, not the ones he's already mastered.

 

If the season goes surprisingly well, and the Twins are in contention, and you need another arm, grab him from AAA and throw him in the bullpen. He'll be even better for having worked on his secondary pitches. But unless you think his offspeed pitches are hopeless and are ready to make him a reliever permanently, I wouldn't pull the plug quite yet.

 

But the only point in making him a reliever now is if the Twins are in win-now mode, and they really need him; or if they plan to throw him out there when the game is already lost, and he can experiment without a cost.

 

If the Twins get so far out of the race that they're throwing in the towel, I guess theycould let him work on his curve and change with major league batters then, too, even if it means getting knocked around. But otherwise, I'd let him work on his off speed pitches in AAA.

    • Minny505 and BJames like this

The problem with using him in the majors as a reliever is that he will concentrate on using his best pitches, to get people out. What he needs to do is improve his secondary pitches. You can't do that in the majors, with games on the line.


Their is no substitute for learning how to get major league hitters out, ask Berrios. Taylor Rogers learned a slider last year during the season while working out of the pen.
    • beckmt, DocBauer, caninatl04 and 1 other like this

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