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A sleeper who woke up: Sergio Romo, RHP, San Francisco Giants

San Francisco Giants reliever Sergio Romo fit the profile of a pitching prospect sleeper.

Sergio Romo
Sergio Romo
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, we took a close look at pitching sleepers who woke up, searching for commonalities among an admittedly-small sample of unheralded pitchers who succeeded in 2014. One pitcher in the category who woke up several years ago and has remained awake is San Francisco Giants closer Sergio Romo.

Through 351 major league innings, Romo has a 2.51 ERA and an outstanding 394/72 K/BB, allowing a mere 253 hits. Yet he was never a top prospect.

Romo was a shortstop in high school in Brawley, California, 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. However, he didn't throw hard and scouts weren't overly interested.

Undrafted but undaunted, he then moved on to Mesa State College in Colorado 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 finally 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 there was little buzz about him and the consensus was that he need to prove himself at higher levels.

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 ignored him. The only information I had was a negative scouting report from a Sally League observer 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.

Seeing him in the Arizona Fall League and coming away very impressed, I put him in my '08 book. His fastball was just average, but he had exceptional command of his secondary pitches, a fearless attitude, and a lot of deception in his approach. The report filed for 2008:

Romo was drafted in the 28th round in 2005, from Mesa State College. Scouts aren’t wild about him, but his statistics are exceptional, with superb K/BB, K/IP, and H/IP ratios all through his pro career. He thrived in the difficult California League last year, and deserves a full shot in Double-A in 2008. Romo’s stuff is average and he is short for a right-handed pitcher, but he changes speeds well, throws strikes, and has a bulldog attitude. The numbers are tremendous; I think he’s a sleeper to watch closely. Grade C+

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. This was great, but it seemed likely that he would regress some. The report for '09:

Score one for the statheads. I pointed Romo out as a sleeper in the book last year, and he ended up surprising a lot of people with some brilliant numbers, emerging as a strong short reliever in his major league trial. His fastball is average at 88-93 MPH, but he combines it with a diverse arsenal including a splitter, a slider, a curveball and a straight changeup. He uses different angles, throws strikes, and is good at pulling the string on hitters. As much as I love what he did last year, I don’t think his 2.12 ERA is sustainable over the course of a full major league season. His batting- average-against was .138, untenable over a full season, and he gave up a 0.48 GO/AO ratio. Some of those fly balls will become home runs at some point. Basically I think 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. Grade C+.


Romo did regress, his ERA bumping up to 3.97 in 34 innings for the Giants in 2009, 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). He was very steady in '12 and '13 but lost some steam this year, with a large spike in FIP (3.94 compared to a career 2.74), although his K/BB and K/IP marks remain strong.

In the article about sleepers last week, we noticed that the 2014 sleeper group had some things in common:



If you are looking for a sleeper pitching prospect in the middle or latter rounds, consider college pitchers from well-regarded mid-major or smaller programs, who are statistically successful but who don't necessarily burn radar guns, who are somewhere in the 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 range (but not taller) with a physical build that is neither excessively thin or thick, and who have had success as a two-way player.

How well does Romo match that profile?

Pretty well actually. He is shorter and smaller than a typical sleeper at 5-10, 180, but he otherwise fits: he was statistically dominant for a smaller college program despite a lack of blazing velocity, he always struck hitters out at an excellent rate while throwing strikes as well, and he was a two-way player as an amateur.