Wow factor abounds for Rays prospect Romero
Hard-throwing Dominican lefty signals team's focus on Latin America
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Nobody wants to make a big deal out of it when Enny Romero takes the mound, but nonchalance is tough to pull off when watching the Dominican left-hander throw.
One might ask, "What's the big deal?" After all, Romero is just 22 and he pitched for Class A Port Charlotte last season. Here's the deal: He can grab your attention.
"He truly can," said Dick Bosman, Rays Minor League pitching coordinator. "This kid's a legitimate upper-90s guy with life, and he's left-handed."
Romero caught everyone's attention when he pitched a four-inning stint in a Minor League game last spring.
"The first time I saw him throw in a game was last year in Spring Training," Double-A Montgomery catcher Mark Thomas said. "He got every guy out and struck out 11 of 12 -- four innings, he struck out 11. I'm like, 'Whew.'
Thomas remembered seeing Romero shortly after he arrived from the Rays' developmental program in the Dominican Republic.
"He was just a baby," Thomas said. "He's tall, so the ball comes out at this crazy angle. He probably gets to about 54 feet before he releases the ball. Not to mention, he throws 98 [mph]."
The Santo Domingo native signed with the Rays as a free agent on June 2, 2008. He has made steady progress ever since, and is now the team's No. 6 prospect according to MLB.com's 2013 rankings.
Romero smiled when asked how it felt to be able to throw a fastball that registered in the upper 90s.
"It's very nice," he said. "But for me, it's not a surprise. When I [signed] in the Dominican, I threw 85 [mph]. That's [a 10-mph increase] in five years. I work my legs hard."
"It's nice to watch him grow up," Bosman said. "He comes over here and has all the basic requirements. He's long and tall and his arm works well. The ball comes out of his hand real well. Now, can we harness all this stuff?"
Bosman pointed out that Romero has learned a cutter and noted that it could become a "go-to" pitch for him.
"It's just a matter of whether he can locate better, because they get a little excited about how hard they throw," Bosman said. "For the most part you can just buzz it up there chest high and guys swing at it and you keep going. But as he moves up the ladder, the hitters become more selective, and pretty soon those pitches become balls. And now you're pitching [from 2-0, 3-1 counts] all the time. I don't care how good your stuff is; you're not going to survive that way."
Romero is projected to pitch at Montgomery this season, which should introduce him to a more cerebral level of baseball.
"He's going to the Men's League now," Bosman said. "I call Double-A the Men's League. That's where your breaking ball becomes a big part of your life. You've got to be able to throw a breaking ball in and out of the strike zone when you want to. And they better swing and miss it once in a while. If that's the case, generally guys continue to move. If you don't, you stall. Because that's just the way it works."
Romero went 5-7 with a 3.93 ERA in 25 appearances (23 starts) for Charlotte last season. Included in his numbers were 107 strikeouts in 126 innings -- along with 76 walks.
"He seems to be a little bit on the serious side," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I don't know if that's from lack of feeling comfortable with the culture and the language, but definitely, he's all business when he's out there. But I like it. This guy's motivated. It's definitely high-end stuff. It's really interesting."
Maddon added: "He's just not at the point where he can repeat everything."
Repeating one's delivery translates to the command needed to pitch in the Major Leagues.
When asked about repeating his delivery, Romero said, "I think my command is really good right now. Right now, I repeat my delivery every day, every pitch, [but] sometimes my arm is late with the ball. Sometimes it's good. Right now, it's very good."
Rays farm director Mitch Lukevics called Romero a "blue-ribbon product" from their Dominican program. But he translates to more than a quality prospect to the Rays, who maintain their Dominican program to sign and develop talent.
"We're starting to see the fruits of their labor down there," Lukevics said. "And you can see Enny Romero, the big, strong lefty with good stuff, [he's] young and he has a lot of potential."
Others Latin American prospects currently knocking on the door include hard-throwing right-hander Alex Colome and left-handers Frank De Los Santos and Felipe Rivero.
"It's well documented before [the current ownership group] came in prior to the 2006 season that our Latin America operations were dormant," Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. "So we started from the ground up, and we're really starting to see a lot of these guys coming through our system."
Friedman stressed the fact that Latin America needs to play a large role in the future of the organization.
"We talk about how scouting and player development are the linchpin for our success," Friedman said. "And if we're cutting off a quarter to a half of the applicant pool by not being as active internationally as other teams, we're making it that much more difficult. We're putting a lot of time and resources into getting our international operations up to speed, and now we're trying to have it be one of the best in the game."
Enny Romero takes the "wow" factor to the mound every time he pitches. For Rays fans, that wow should extend well past the budding star toward Latin America, where talent is being grown and the harvest is near.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.