Romero Ready to Ink the Pen?
Image courtesy of © Brad Rempel-USA TODAY SportsFernando 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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