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MLB Rookie Profile: Sal Romano, RHP, Cincinnati Reds

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Reds rookie Sal Romano had control problems in his first MLB start. Will they continue?

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at Cincinnati Reds David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Cincinnati Reds rookie right-hander Sal Romano made his major league debut on April 16th against the Milwaukee Brewers. It didn’t go well: four walks and three hits over three innings resulting in three runs. It was just his first start, however, and control problems have not been a regular part of his profile. Let’s take a look.

Romano was originally drafted in the 23rd round in 2011 from high school in Southington, Connecticut. He could have gone much higher in the draft but a firm committment to the University of Tennessee scared teams off. The Reds were able to sign him however, changing his mind with $450,000.

He was erratic at first, struggling in the lower minors but he improved in 2015 then took a large step forward in 2016 with a fine campaign for Double-A Pensacola. Romano ranked 15th on the Cincinnati Reds Top 20 prospects for 2017 list published back in January, with the following comment:

15) Sal Romano, RHP, Grade B-/C+: Age 23, 23rd round pick in 2011 though would have gone 20 rounds higher if not for college commitment; 3.52 ERA with 144/34 K/BB in 156 innings in Double-A; throws hard with 92-98 MPH fastball but usually hits his locations well; mixes in a plus slider; change-up inconstant and may push him to bullpen without improvement though the fact that he throws strikes helps his chances; burly 6-5, 270 build leads to conditioning questions but he’s been very durable so far and may well be a workhorse. ETA 2018.

The ETA was wrong, Romano arriving in the major about a year sooner than I expected.

Romano was quite impressive in spring training, posting a 3.15 ERA with an excellent 25/3 K/BB in 20 innings. He made two starts for Triple-A Louisville, giving up two runs in 13 innings with an 8/1 K/BB. He was a logical choice for promotion when a spot opened up.

In his first start he topped out at 97.9 MPH, working mainly with his fastball, throwing it 60 times at an average of 95.2 MPH. He used his slider 16 times, varying between 81 and 90 MPH while averaging 87. He threw just three change-ups. This all fits into the pre-season scouting reports, which noted the heavy reliance on his harder pitches. The main difference is that he had problems throwing strikes. This seems likely a matter of nerves, admitted to by Romano himself

Here’s some video from his first Louisville start this month, from Reds Minor Leagues:

My thinking is that with more adjustment time, Romano will emerge as a viable fourth starter. If used in the bullpen, he could be more dominant on a per-inning basis.