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Romero Ready to Ink the Pen?

Not long after Santa had gotten back to the North Pole, Minnesota decided that the lineup could use one more present. After being connected to him for weeks, the front office finally landed slugging designated hitter Nelson Cruz. Assuming the lineup is now all but addressed, it’s time to turn the focus over to pitching. Rocco Baldelli’s starting rotation potentially has one opening, but it’s the bullpen where a more pressing need can be felt. Looking at a dwindling list of options, and some likely out of the realm of possibility, it’s worth wondering if the largest contributor may come from within.
Image courtesy of © Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Fernando Romero has been placed near the top of Minnesota Twins prospect lists for the better part of the past few years now. He cracked top 100 prospect lists for the first time entering the 2018 season, and his solid showing with Triple-A Rochester in his third season removed from Tommy John surgery earned him his eventual major league debut.

As with all starting pitchers, the goal would be to keep them on the mound for something like 200 innings over the course of a season. During his 125-inning output in 2017 with Chattanooga, Romero posted a 3.53 ERA bolstered by an 8.6 K/9. Those numbers were plenty respectable but didn’t jibe with the 1.89 ERA and 9.0 K/9 (paired with a 1.5 BB/9) split between two levels of Single-A in 2016. Looking to get the most out of their 24-year-old hurler with an upper 90’s fastball, the Twins could pivot to a role in relief.

Despite owning a fastball that sat just shy of 96mph on average during 2018, Romero consistently left the Twins wanting more. As Twins Daily’s Nick Nelson pointed out, the thought regarding Romero’s profile generally presents the consensus that “This guy's dominant, let's get the most innings out of him we can.” He goes on to note however, that the results haven’t been indicative of that reality. With a sub 7.0 K/9 at Triple-A in 2018, and just barely breaking that mark at the big-league level, it’s apparent the ability isn’t translating to output.

With a freakish fastball-slider combination, Romero can push velocity while also forcing the batter to stay on his toes. He’s utilized the heavy heat roughly two-thirds of the time while turning to his slider as the top secondary offering. Although both pitches should present difficulties to opposing hitters, 2018 saw a chase rate of just 30% and a swinging strike rate of only 10.6% for Romero. To offer some perspective, both of those marks are essentially the same profile that Jake Odorizzi posted a season ago.

There’s little denying that the Twins expected a more drastic strikeout profile from Romero. Whether or not the issues stem from settling back into a full workload, or it’s more in relation to the ineffectiveness of a quality third pitch, new pitching coach Wes Johnson will be looking to unlock the 90th percentile of where Romero’s capabilities lie. Considering his youth, there’s hardly a reason to look at a move to the pen as a death sentence, or even a forever destination. Knowing the Twins need to pair more impact arms with the likes of Trevor May, Taylor Rogers, and Trevor Hildenberger however, it’s hard not to salivate at the thought of what a quick burst Romero could look like.

Baseball has long since changed to be a game that doesn’t force relievers into set roles. While there’s a small number of guys still chasing saves, the best relievers in the game are called upon to put out fires when their teams need them most. Affording Baldelli the opportunity to unleash a Romero that shoves near 100mph and totes a double-digit K/9 when a lead is in jeopardy is beyond an exciting proposition.

Given the financial flexibility still afforded to the club, something like $30 million shy of the 2018 Opening Day payroll, an acquisition or two for the pen should be a certainty. Raising the water level of the group by transitioning what could be the best internal option into the group only makes the collective that much more exciting. If the bullpen is rounded out by a group with names like Moya or Vasquez, you’d be asking unproven commodities to do quite a bit. A key free agent or two, plus Romero, turns the likes of May, Rogers, and Hildenberger into valuable pieces rounding out the depth instead of horses tasked with carrying the load.

We certainly don’t have the answer as to whether Romero unlocks his potential in relief, but nothing we’ve seen as a starter suggests he’s there, in that starter role, currently. Narrowing the focus, using his two best pitches, and letting it fly in short stints could have both Fernando and the Twins looking at a player that performs at somewhat of an unstoppable level. Considering the current deficiency in that area, it’s a proposition that should be relatively easy to get behind.

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19 Comments

I like this article and agree with the idea.
    • blindeke likes this
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specialiststeve
Dec 27 2018 09:05 PM

Would prefer to have him try from the start of the season to start and see if he does better this time around. Hard to judge him on such a short piece of experience. Tons of relief help on the market. If he flops again I am fine with the idea but starting pitching is VERY hard to find... lets give him another shot first!

    • glunn, Ryan Atkins, beckmt and 7 others like this

I'd like to go into 2018 with Romero as a starter, because I think he has the potential to be a really good starter, and that's a rare thing in the MLB nowadays. However, if things aren't going right in the rotation for him, transitioning to the bullpen shouldn't be hard and I think his electric stuff will do him well there. I could see him becoming the closer at some point.

    • glunn, TheLeviathan, mikelink45 and 3 others like this

Would prefer to have him try from the start of the season to start and see if he does better this time around. Hard to judge him on such a short piece of experience. Tons of relief help on the market. If he flops again I am fine with the idea but starting pitching is VERY hard to find... lets give him another shot first!


Agree, but object to the "flopping" comment. Injuries curtailed him for a time. Healthy, he showed nice numbers and tons of potential. The Twins were pretty aggressive promoting him when they did. He looked awesome...then average. Not uncommon for a young pitcher. All the talent in the world. He and Mejia should both be part of 2019. The question is, in what role? There is the role of designated starter. And there is the often made reference to the Cardinals way of introducing a pitcher as a RP first before transitioning back to a starter.

No matter what, these two arms need to be on staff.
    • ChrisKnutson, tarheeltwinsfan, howieramone2 and 1 other like this
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diehardtwinsfan
Dec 28 2018 07:36 AM

For the love God... please no. 

    • Vanimal46 and BJames like this
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lukeduke1980
Dec 28 2018 08:11 AM

I like the idea if he is more of a multi inning relief pitcher - he and Mejia could both be.Given the number of 5 inning starts from Odorizzi and the unknowns with Pineda it would be nice to have some length instead of piecing things together for 4-5 innings.

    • Sconnie likes this

I am still a believer in starters and his debut showed what he can do.It was a better audition that Berrios had his first year.Put Mejia in the pen and start Romero.

    • ken likes this
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TheLeviathan
Dec 28 2018 09:15 AM
Nope - rotation. Fill the pen in FA and let this kid start.
    • diehardtwinsfan, Danchat, mikelink45 and 3 others like this

Have we given up on May as a starter then? We have May Romero and Mejia that all are capable of pitching multiple quality innings at a time so why not tailor their use accordingly.Let them all go through the order once rather than one inning or one batter and done.How about 70 inning in 30 appearances rather than 70 innings in 70 appearances.

    • Sconnie likes this
It would be nice to still have Pressly because of this situation now. But I don't see a reason why both Romero and Mejia couldn't split the #5 spot in the rotation along with both spending time in the bullpen? Both could throw 100 to 125 innings and that would add up to one real good pitcher??
    • ChrisKnutson likes this

If you look at the Romero of 2016 vs this of 2017 and 2018, the one number that jumps out is BB%.It doubled the last 2 seasons.This is something that needs work and adjustment.  

 

His 10.2% Swinging Strike percentage was third behind Gibson and Berrios among the Twins' starters in 2018, but pretty mediocre for a reliever.It will likely tick up with increase in his FB and SL velo in the pen.Maybe a pen stint can help him with decreasing the BB% if he attacks the strike zone more during shorter outings.

 

Will it be better for the Twins for Romero to go to the pen?

 

Cannot answer this yet. Need to see what they are going to do before Spring Training starts.If they are not going to get any other starters, the Twins might be better of with Romero at the last starting spot than with any of their other young pitchers (Gonsalves, Stewart, Slegers, etc.) who pitched worse than Romero last season, they are not ready and might never be.Mejia is the wild card here since he is out of options and the only lefty starter who is ready.

 

It is a long off-season.

Lets sign Keuchel and move Romero to the pen and call it an offseason. No? Then I see why a move to the pen looks good but lets keep him in the rotation and see if he can be a number 3 starter.
I’ve been advocating him as a closer for a while. He could be what Osuna was for the Jays during their last playoff runs.

While I am not opposed to him starting I would rather have him in the pen than in AAA.Get him some success pitching in the pen and he can try to start next year if needed. 

 

Meja is the only lefty starter we have and he is out of options.I think he is best used in the 5 spot.Any of these guys could get injured in preseason or early in the season so a spot could open up for Romero but right now he looks like the odd man out to me.If that is the case I would still like him in the pen to get more experience and if he is dominant then that is helpful as well. 

    • h2oface, Doomtints and David HK like this

If the last rotation spot is between Romero and Mejia then you'd have to go with Romero and put Mejia in the pen. Mejia hasn't proven himself to be durable enough to give 100 innings much less 200. I liken this to moving Trevor May to the bullpen. The Twins are notorius for moving struggling starters to the pen and then never, ever, ever, giving them another chance to be a starter again. If they put Romero there now, we'll never know if he could have made it as a starter.

    • ken likes this
I think Romero will be in the pen to start 2019, and I think that is a great plan.
    • Carole Keller, Steve Lein, birdwatcher and 4 others like this

I think Romero will be in the pen to start 2019, and I think that is a great plan.


I'd prefer having him start since it's so damn difficult to find it and he showed the ability to do so last season. Mejia could be a decent multi inning bullpen arm.
    • ChrisKnutson and ken like this

I hope people aren't thinking that he will become "Josh Hader like" if we move him to the pen.

Mejia is MUCH further along than Romero. He should be the first #5. The fifth spot tends to change over the course of a season anyway as the pitcher either gets better or goes away.

 

As far as Romero goes, pitchers who can throw 96-97+ are great to have in the pen and practically wasted as starters, where they have to pace themselves and can only toss that hard sporadically.

 

If Romero can be this generation's JC Romero or Juan Rincon, the Twins will win a lot of games. If the Twins want to stay cheap, high performing 8th and 9th inning pitchers are essential. These are the innings where heat is most devastating.


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