Rookie Profile: Ricky Romero
Ricky Romero was drafted in the first round by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2005, out of Cal State Fullerton. Very successful in college, he went 13-5, 2.89 with a 139/34 K/BB in 134 innings for Fullerton as a junior, and was expected to move through the minors very quickly. He made eight starts for Dunedin in the Florida State League after signing, posting a 3.82 ERA with a 22/7 K/BB in 31 innings, allowing 36 hits. Scouts projected him as a number three starter, on the strength of his 90-93 MPH fastball, plus curveball, and plus changeup. I gave him a Grade B+ in the 2006 book, writing that he didn't throw hard enough to project as a true ace, but that he should get to the majors rapidly and "hold a rotation spot for a long time."
Romero began 2006 with Dunedin in the Florida State League. He made 12 starts with a 2.47 ERA and a 61/14 K/BB in 58 innings, 48 hits allowed, then was promoted to Double-A New Hampshire. The higher level was more difficult: 5.08 ERA, 41/26 K/BB in 67 innings, 65 hits allowed. Scouting reports indicated that he was having trouble locating his pitches against better hitters, that he was "nibbling too much" and giving hitters too much credit. He also had some elbow trouble early in the season, though this didn't seem to have anything to do with his Double-A problems. I lowered his rating to a Grade B, noting the decline in his component ratios at the higher level.
2007 was a bad year. He continued to have problems at New Hampshire, with a 4.89 ERA, 80/51 K/BB in 88 innings, and 98 hits allowed. A sore shoulder cost him velocity and he was throwing just 85-88 much of the year instead of his normal 90-93. His curveball also lacked the usual crispness, and his control gave him a lot of problems. He continued to show a good strikeout rate, but I wasn't sure what to make him of him and was concerned about the condition of his arm. I lowered his rating to Grade C in the 2008 book, noting that he could "bolt back up quickly" if his arm was OK, but that we needed to see improvements in his component ratios.
Sent back to New Hampshire to begin 2008, Romero continued to have problems in this environment, posting a 4.96 ERA with a 78/55 K/BB in 121 innings, 139 hits allowed. His strikeout rate was down. Observers reported that his breaking stuff had regressed, and that he overthrew his fastball too much. The good news was that he was healthy and had his fastball back up to 90-94 MPH. In August the Blue Jays promoted him to Triple-A Syracuse, despite his pedestrian performance in Double-A. Getting out of New Hampshire seemed to revive him: he posted a 3.37 ERA with a 38/20 K/BB in 43 innings for Syracuse,. 42 hits allowed. The walk rate was too high, but the strikeout rate was improved and scouts reported that the promotion seemed to revitalize his aggressiveness. I gave him a Grade C+ in the 2009 book, noting that he still had the stuff to succeed and that "if you see improvement in his K/BB ratio, a breakthrough may be in progress."
Romero was impressive in 2009 spring training, making the major league rotation. He missed some time with a strained oblique early in the year, but overall his campaign was better than the Jays could have hoped. 13-9, 4.30 in 29 starts, with a 141/79 K/BB in 178 innings, 192 hits allowed, 4.33 FIP. He maintained his stuff all season, his fastball peaking at 96 MPH and averaging 91. He mixed it with a slider, curveball, and changeup, giving him a complete four-pitch arsenal, with the changeup being his best pitch. Mechanical adjustments and a better mental approach were credited for his improved performance.
What should we expect for the future? Romero wasn't as effective in the second half of the season (3.00 ERA, 69/30 K/BB in 87 innings, 80 hits, before the All-Star Break, 5.54 ERA, 72/49 K/BB in 91 innings, 112 hits afterward), so it seems likely that the league caught up with him after awhile. Note the slippage in his K/BB ratio. His overall season FIP at 4.33 did match his overall season ERA of 4.30 closely, so in the end the luck evened out. His major league component ratios this year (7.1 K/9, 4.0 BB/9, 9.7 H/9) matched his minor league components (7.0 K/9, 3.8 BB/9, 9.4 H/9) very closely, so 2009 is not out of context with the rest of his career. He got a lot of ground balls (2.03 GB/FB), and I like the strikeout/grounder combination.
For a prospect who was considered a borderline bust as a first rounder entering '09, Romero had a great rookie season. To take the next steps, Romero needs to stay healthy and sharpen his control.