The Tampa Bay Rays brought lefty Enny Romero to the big leagues this past weekend. He made his debut last Sunday against the Baltimore Orioles, throwing four shutout innings (cool!) but walking four (not so cool) and not striking out anyone. What can we expect from him in the future? Let's take a look.
The Rays signed Romero out of the Dominican Republic in 2008. He had command problems in his North American debut in 2009, resulting in a 4.81 ERA with a 33/21 K/BB in 39 innings in the Gulf Coast League, but he was much more effective in the Appalachian League in 2010, posting a 1.95 ERA with a sharp 72/14 K/BB in 69 innings, earning accolades as one of the best pitchers in the short-season leagues.
Moved up to Bowling Green in the Low-A Midwest League for 2011, he saw some command slippage with a 4.26 ERA and a 140/68 K/BB in 114 innings, though he still stood out for his arm strength. 2012 was similar: 3.93 ERA for High-A Charlotte, with a 107/76 K/BB in 126 innings.
Promoted to Double-A Montgomery for 2013, Romero saw his ERA drop to 2.76 with an 11-7 record in 27 starts, with a 110/78 K/BB in 140 innings. He made one start for Triple-A Durham, throwing eight shutout innings.
Despite his erratic performance, Romero has pitched in the last two futures games and it isn't hard to understand why: he has a hot fastball that tops out at 98 MPH and works consistently at 93-94, premium velocity for a young lefty. He's listed at 6-3, 165, although I think he's filled out some since that measurement was taken. His fastball has movement as well as velocity; it isn't straight.
Romero's second pitch is a nasty breaking ball, variously described as a hard curve or a slider. This pitch is inconsistent: at times it is outstanding and a genuine out-pitch at the major league level, but he doesn't always command it well, usually due to release point problems. This was reportedly less of an issue this year, but it was bothersome in the past. He has a change-up and a cutter but neither offering compares with the fastball and curve in terms of quality. The change is the better of this duo and has development potential.
At his best, Romero offers two overpowering pitches with his fastball and curve along with a workable change. The Rays have developed him as a starter, hoping that innings will help him resolve his command troubles and help develop the third or fourth pitch. At age 22, he still has plenty of development time, and the Rays are usually good about giving pitchers like this sufficient experience at each level.
For 2014, it would make sense to send him to Triple-A, working on command and further refinement of the change-up. Of course, a good spring training and other roster developments could alter that timetable. If the command comes around, he has the ability to be a number three starter, maybe more if maxes out the change-up and throws enough quality strikes.
A key factor to watch will be his strikeout rate, which doesn't seem to be as high as it should be given his stuff. Watch his K/IP and K/BB ratios closely. If you see one (or hopefully both) of those markers improve, a breakout could be in progress.
I had Romero rated as a high-ceiling Grade B- pre-season. He''s on the borderland between a B- and a Grade B currently.