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Fernando Romero: The Forgotten Flamethrower


Nick Nelson
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The hype train is in full gear for the Minnesota Twins 2020 relief corps. Last Thursday night at the Diamond Awards, manager Rocco Baldelli opined that it's the best bullpen in baseball right now – a perfectly defensible claim.

 

Bolstered by Brusdar Graterol's now-confirmed inclusion, this unit is loaded with emerging high-powered arms and proven veteran performers. One major wild-card, however, tends to get left out of the conversation.Fernando Romero's 2019 season was a disaster by any measure. It wasn't just his horrific 7.07 ERA in major-league 14 innings. Even more so, it was the totally uninspiring results he put forth while spending a majority of his campaign at Triple-A: 57.2 IP, 4.37 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 4.5 BB/9, 12 wild pitches.

 

The lasting memory in the minds of most fans is likely Romero's lone MLB appearance in June, when he was briefly recalled following a May demotion. With the Twins leading the Mariners 10-1 at Target Field, Romero was called upon to pitch the eighth inning in basically the lowest-stress situation imaginable.

 

His sequence: walk, single, double, run-scoring wild pitch, walk. Romero was removed, sent back down, and didn't see the major-league mound again until September, when he served in essentially a mop-up role for the Twins.

 

Now that we've got all that unpleasantness out of the way, let's circle back to the positives attached to the big right-hander, which are hardly erased by one bad season, no matter how discouraging:

 

He's still only 25. Younger than – say – Corey Kluber was before he even joined the Cleveland rotation. Kluber seems a noteworthy comp because he was also struggling with his control around the same age.

 

Romero's fastball is in a rare class. He averaged 97 MPH last year, which ranked 35th out of 646 MLB pitchers to throw 10+ innings, or in the 95th percentile. Among Twins pitchers, only Graterol can bring it harder.

 

He can dominate with the slider. Buzzing in at 87 MPH, it's a very good pitch. Despite his struggles with the Twins in 2019, opponents batted just .154 and slugged .269 against the slide-piece, with an astounding 64.7% whiff rate (per Baseball Savant).

 

He keeps the ball in the park. This aspect of his game curiously went amiss at the beginning of last season, as he gave up five home runs in his first six appearances between Triple-A and the majors, but the rest of the way he surrendered just two homers in 59 1/3 frames. This aligns with his broader track record – in 450 minor-league innings, Romero allowed only 18 long balls.

 

He is a specimen. At 6-feet and 215 lbs, Romero is an intimidating force on the mound with the attitude to match. The qualities that gave him appeal as a late-inning weapon when the Twins switched his role last spring are still there.

 

Now, Romero of course has some things working against him, the main one being command. As good as his stuff is, he rarely had any idea where it was going last year and that really cost him. But incumbent pitching coach Wes Johnson and newcomer Bob McClure have plenty to work with here.

 

Will he be able to sync up with them from the start of the season? Or will he open back in Triple-A? Will the Twins continue to try making it work in the bullpen, or will they give him another shot at starting, with their bullpen depth so much stronger now than it was a year ago?

 

In the late stages of last season, I expressed concern over the right-hander's status for 2020, noting that he'd burned three options and the Twins could be looking ahead to a tough decision this spring. But it was brought to my attention, via Jeremy Nygaard, that Romero likely qualifies for a fourth option.

 

With this being the case, I'm thinking the best course of action might be to transition him back into a starting role at Rochester. The Twins' needs have shifted back in that direction, and in all the clamor to find an ace for the rotation, the team would be remiss to overlook an internal candidate with so many of the requisite attributes.

 

If he can emerge again as a starting option, that would be a potentially huge boost. And if the move doesn't take, a relief fallback remains in place.

 

Should Romero look good in spring training, perhaps the Twins will strike a happy medium by bringing him north out of camp, and using him in a long-relief or piggybacking type of capacity, while finding ways to fill innings until Michael Pineda is available. He could stay stretched without needing to be thrust back into a starter's regimen after pitching exclusively as a reliever in 2019. Perhaps more importantly, this plan would allow Romero to work closely with Johnson and McClure from the jump.

 

Questions and decisions like these will rise to the forefront as Romero and the rest of the team's pitchers get ready to report to Fort Myers in two weeks. How would you prefer to see the team handle him moving forward?

 

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Nice article, thanks.

 

I get the sense that unless the Twins land another starter before opening day, they'll use some variation of the "opener" strategy. Perhaps Romero could be effective in that role, throwing as hard as he does. Granted, it's a big perhaps, but they are going to have to get creative and take risks, given the current status of the rotation.

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Personally I'd love to see Romero put back into a starting role, especially if the plan is to use Graterol out of the bullpen. My biggest concern with the current crop of major league ready starters is that for the most part there isn't a lot of upside. Guys like Smeltzer and Dobnak are OK as the 6th-7th options on the depth chart, but I have concerns about how much success they'll have over an extended stretch in the major league rotation. Romero at least has the potential to be more than a 5th starter. During the first stretch of games he started with the Twins he looked dominant and if he could recapture that form there are a lot of available starter innings early in the season. Having a 4th option would be huge since he could shuttle between AAA and the majors as needed.

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Another very good article Nick. Yes, Romero has definitely become the forgotten name in the pitching mix. From prospect to suspect. I can only join the other voices in hoping that the pitching coaches help him sharpen his control and it will result in increased confidence and better performances. That would be a very welcome surprise!

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If Romero`s heart is in starting, I`d say give him a shot if this isn`t a problem then put him in a relief role. Whatever easiest for him to turn it around. Maybe a relief role in the ML would be better because Wes Johnson has more contact w/ him. The role that they`re putting Graterol, I`d rather see Romero. After he`s settled in they could ease him in starting

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I continue to have high hopes for Romero. His stuff is lethal when he puts it all together. The stretch of starts in May 2018, from his debut and first MLB win against Toronto to his loss against Seattle, at only 23 years old, convinced me this guy is special and should be groomed as a starter. Wes will make it happen.

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Why is it the Twins believe anyone that throws hard should be in the bullpen. Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemons, Randy Johnson, and Justin Verlander would have been wasted talent with this club.

It is not because they throw hard rather it is other factors. Graterol has nothing to prove in the minors. What he needs to learn is the art of getting major league hitters out. Romero likewise. It is like the start of Johan's career as a Twin , only a little different.  Please name 3 ways that Romero is similar to any og the pitchers you listed.

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I love prospects as much as the next guy.  And I FULLY believe in building with your own draft picks, esp in a mid-market like Minnesota.  However, Romero provides a cautionary tale about them and gives a perfect example why the FO should be willing to deal from depth (prospects, esp OF organizational depth) to get that SP that makes them a legit WS threat.  I'm sorry....with all due respect to the guys competing for spots, with the current rotation and SP options this team is not a serious threat to the Yankees.

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Thanks for the reminder about Romero, Nick.

 

The question is his command/control and that for whatever reason, his stuff gets hit sometimes, hard.  Yet, I recall that start forever ago, think it was in Anaheim, where I was jumping off the couch with joy.Starter or reliever, don't care as long as he puts his problems behind him and contributes to future pitching staffs.  

 

The Twins have one concern in their bullpen come year end, Trevor May.  I believe he is a free agent after this season.  Do they extend this summer, sign him the week after winning the World Series, or let him walk?  Having a couple arms like Graterol and a good Romero in the pen could have an effect on that decision.

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The reason Romero was moved to the BP and is unlikely to ever move back is because he doesn't have a quality third pitch. Unless you are Rich Hill with his insane CB and good command virtually all SP have at least 3 usable pitches. Typically that is a fastball, some kind of breaking ball, and a changeup. 

Since Romero does not have a usable changeup they moved him to the BP. Could he theoretically develop one still? Yeah, but given how long they've tried to so far that's a pipe dream.

That's why Graterol could still (and should) transition to a starter in the future. In addition to his FB, and SL, he also has roughly major league average changeup to use against left handed batters. 

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Here's a scouting report from two years ago which shows equal grades for a slider and changeup so it is certainly there if only for show.  I am not convinced two pitches can't succeed anyway but it looks like he has them.    If you look at every level he has pitched there is a direct correlation between walks and ERA.   Almost one for one.   Walks often reflect lack of control within the zone also.    Nothing new here.  Tons of pitchers have found control at this stage and become successful.  Tons never did find it.   Its up to him.    Sometimes its confidence and sometimes its just a slight adjustment of something or other.  If ever he has a good  stretch of 2 or fewer walks/9 that is when I would promote him.    

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The extra option year is intriguing.

 

I also think Romero is a case for why we shouldn't make statements like "bolstered by Brusdar Graterol's now-confirmed inclusion." Never rely on a rookie to be a difference maker, and never rely on a player in a new position to be a difference maker. If they are, great. But that's a bonus. But you're more likely to end up disappointed. Transition usually takes time.

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Personally I'd love to see Romero put back into a starting role, especially if the plan is to use Graterol out of the bullpen. My biggest concern with the current crop of major league ready starters is that for the most part there isn't a lot of upside. Guys like Smeltzer and Dobnak are OK as the 6th-7th options on the depth chart, but I have concerns about how much success they'll have over an extended stretch in the major league rotation. Romero at least has the potential to be more than a 5th starter. During the first stretch of games he started with the Twins he looked dominant and if he could recapture that form there are a lot of available starter innings early in the season. Having a 4th option would be huge since he could shuttle between AAA and the majors as needed.

I agree, many have written Romero off, but there are an awful lot of pitchers out there that have had struggles and then all of the sudden figure it out. It would be nice to have a dude who throws 97 figure it out. I don't like the idea of automatically putting Grateral in the bullpen, my hope is that the long term plan is to have him remain a starter. But it could be the long term plan, I know they started with Johan in the bullpen and worked him into the rotation eventually. Here's to hoping Grateral becomes the next Johan Santana.

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I also think Romero is a case for why we shouldn't make statements like "bolstered by Brusdar Graterol's now-confirmed inclusion." Never rely on a rookie to be a difference maker, and never rely on a player in a new position to be a difference maker. If they are, great. But that's a bonus. But you're more likely to end up disappointed. Transition usually takes time.

I'm not gonna say it's an entirely substantive sample, but Graterol showed me enough out of the bullpen last year to be confident in him. Held opponents to a .217/.295/.333 slash with a 21/6 K/BB ratio in 20 IP last year between AAA/MLB. Big difference between Graterol and Romero (+ many other young fireballers) is that Brusdar can keep it in the zone. Never been a big issue for him. 

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Why is it the Twins believe anyone that throws hard should be in the bullpen. Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemons, Randy Johnson, and Justin Verlander would have been wasted talent with this club.

But the Mets did use Ryan in the bullpen. He pitched 130, 90, 130, and 150 innings with the Mets. He didn't exclusively become a starter until he ended up in California with the Angels his first year he threw like 280 innings. So yeah the Mets long term plan for Ryan was probably as a starter, but they broke him in slow.

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Why is it the Twins believe anyone that throws hard should be in the bullpen. Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemons, Randy Johnson, and Justin Verlander would have been wasted talent with this club.

 

There's not one hard thrower in the entire system who has even hinted at having the kind of durability of those four Hall of Fame pitchers. 

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I have felt and commented on the change the Twins wanted in making Romero a RP.  I think he has always had the mindset of a SP and when the change was made his performance went down.  I am all for him as a starter.  I think his situation is very different from Graterol.  Graterol is in the MLB and he is happy to be on the roster, not down in the minors learning to relieve.  I would hope that the team moves Graterol up like they did both Liriano and Santana. 

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I have felt and commented on the change the Twins wanted in making Romero a RP.  I think he has always had the mindset of a SP and when the change was made his performance went down.  I am all for him as a starter.  I think his situation is very different from Graterol.  Graterol is in the MLB and he is happy to be on the roster, not down in the minors learning to relieve.  I would hope that the team moves Graterol up like they did both Liriano and Santana. 

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe last time you blamed coaching. Mindset, coaching it really doesn't matter. There are 29 other teams out there, if our favorite team is offered starting pitching value I'm sure they would consider it.

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"Now, Romero of course has some things working against him, the main one being command."

 

Hard to have command when you are struggling with composure.

Watching that 10-1 game last June, it was the composure meltdown as things went South on the mound that half inning that was tough to watch. Rather than work on mechanics, technique, etc to improve Fernando's command hopefully Wes Johnson/Twins can help him with the mental discipline aspect of being a MLB pitcher.

 

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But the Mets did use Ryan in the bullpen. He pitched 130, 90, 130, and 150 innings with the Mets. He didn't exclusively become a starter until he ended up in California with the Angels his first year he threw like 280 innings. So yeah the Mets long term plan for Ryan was probably as a starter, but they broke him in slow.

Yup. While between '69 and '70 Ryan pitched seven complete games, he also finished eight games out of the pen, recording two saves and a blown save. He had another save in the World Series. 

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Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe last time you blamed coaching. Mindset, coaching it really doesn't matter. There are 29 other teams out there, if our favorite team is offered starting pitching value I'm sure they would consider it.

I also believe that Romero's problems came before the current coaching was in place.  I have more faith now than I did in the Molitor period.

 

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