Reliever Sergio Romo has been a key part of San Francisco's success in 2012, subbing for the injured Brian Wilson. Romo wasn't a hot prospect, but has been a very successful major league pitcher, making him an ideal subject for today's Prospect Retrospective.
Born and raised in Brawley, California, Romo was a shortstop in high school, but began pitching full time with Arizona Western College in 2002 and 2003. He transferred to the University of North Alabama in 2004 and had an excellent season, going 10-3, 3.69 with a 102/13 K/BB in 98 innings.
Undrafted, he then moved on to Mesa State College in 2005. He was even more effective there, going 14-1, 2.46 with a 129/16 K/BB in 124 innings. The composite ERA in Mesa State games that year was about 6.50. He was named Rocky Mountain Conference Pitcher of the Year.
His gaudy statistical performances caught the eyes of scouts, but Romo's size (5-10, 185) and non-blazing fastball limited his stock for the draft. The Giants picked him in the 28th round, projecting him as a useful organization pitcher with an outside shot at helping the major league pen someday. He was brilliant in his pro debut (2.75 ERA, 65/9 K/BB in 69 innings in the Northwest League), but was ignored by Baseball America in their review of the Giants system. I didn't have him in my book either.
Romo was used as a swingman for Low-A Augusta in 2006, making 10 starts and 21 relief appearances, going 10-2, with four saves, posting a 2.53 ERA and a 95/19 K/BB in 103 innings with just 78 hits allowed. Baseball America continued to ignore him, and the only information I had was a negative scouting report saying that his stuff wouldn't hold up at higher levels, so I didn't put him in my 2007 book either.
Ignoring the naysayers, Romo continued blowing minor league hitters away with High-A San Jose in 2007, going 6-2, 1.36 with nine saves and a stunning 106/15 K/BB in just 66 innings, with 35 hits allowed. These were amazingly good numbers. Baseball America finally took notice, although he ranked just 28th on their Giants prospect list.
I was more optimistic, being extremely impressed with Romo after seeing him pitch in the Arizona Fall League. His fastball was just average, but he had exceptional command of his secondary pitches, and a fearless attitude. I gave him a Grade C+ in the 2008 book and said he was a sleeper to watch closely.
Romo ended up reaching the majors faster than expected, pitching 34 innings for the Giants in 2008, with a 2.12 ERA and a 33/8 K/BB in 34 innings with a mere 16 hits allowed. I was still impressed and wrote "score one for the statheads," but I also wrote that his ERA was not "sustainable over the course of a full major league season. His batting-average-against was .138, untenable over a full season. . .regression is inevitable here, but I still think Romo can be at least an average reliever over the course of a full season, with moments of very strong performance. Enjoy him but keep your expectations reasonable."
That turned out to be good advice for 2009, as Romo did regress, his ERA bumping up to 3.97 in 34 innings for the Giants, with 30 hits allowed, although his K/BB remained exceptional at 41/11. In 2010, he went back to being extremely effective (2.18 ERA, 70/14 K/BB in 62 innings, 46 hits), and he's remained that way: 1.50 ERA with a 70/5 K/BB in 48 innings in 2011, then a 1.79 ERA with a 63/10 K/BB in 55 innings in 2012, collecting 14 saves.
In his major league career, Romo has pitched 233 innings, with just 158 hits allowed, a 277/48 K/BB, with a 2.20 ERA, 176 ERA+, 2.41 FIP, and 2.88 xFIP. He does this with mediocre velocity, with a fastball that averages 88 MPH. He relies a lot on his slider, with a few changeups. It works.
Score one for the statheads.