Starter Or Reliever, That Is The Romero Question
Image courtesy of Jay Biggerstaff, USA TodayWhy 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.
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.
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.
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.”
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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