Enny Romero came up as a well-regarded prospect in the Tampa Bay Rays system after signing with the team as an international free agent in 2009. Most impressive was his fastball velocity as a left-hander, and his secondary stuff showed promise as well, even though it was raw.
Romero saw mixed results in the lower minors, but the Rays recognized his potential and added him to the 40-man roster in 2012 following his age-21 season at High-A Charlotte. He responded with a solid 2013 effort at Double-A, posting a 2.76 ERA over 140.1 frames and even getting a late-season start at Triple-A before making his big-league debut in September and tossing 4 and 2/3 scoreless innings in his lone outing.
However, seeing his first regular time at Durham in 2014, Romero hit a wall. While his K/9 of 8.36 was encouraging and his BB/9 improved to 3.71, he was simply hit too hard in 25 starts, leading to an underwhelming 4.50 ERA and 4.15 FIP. Despite his potential value as a left-handed reliever or spot starter, the club did not elect to call him up in September even though he was already on the 40-man roster.
With one option remaining and the time for him to develop his still-unrefined secondary stuff running out, the organization elected to move Romero to the bullpen this past season. As could be expected of this transition, the southpaw improved his strikeout and walk rates to 8.74 and 3.30 per nine respectively, but the results were still not there in his 14 relief outings and three starts at Durham, as he put up just a 4.86 ERA.
Nonetheless, Romero saw a decent amount of big league time, making 23 appearances for the Rays across five separate stints, including 13 in September as the out-of-contention team really took the time to evaluate him. His 9.3 K/9 in his 30 big-league innings was certainly encouraging, and his 3.9 BB/9 was not a complete disaster. Nonetheless, he still managed just a 5.10 ERA while giving up 39 hits.
Now, on the heels of his second disappointing season in a row, Romero is out of options, yet he still has managed to stick around amidst many roster casualties over the past month.
When the time rolled around to protect players for the Rule 5 draft this year, Jake Elmore, Jeff Beliveau, J.P. Arencibia, Brandon Gomes, Kirby Yates, Daniel Nava, Grayson Garvin and Burch Smith all found themselves without a 40-man spot. The team also left players like Tyler Goeddel, Joey Rickard, Jeff Ames and Parker Markel, among others, unprotected for the Rule 5 draft and risked losing all of them while Romero remained. Two would eventually be taken.
Most recently, the club DFA'd useful outfielder Joey Butler when Hank Conger was acquired. Yet, Romero kept his roster spot through all of this.
The Rays would not have made these moves without having faith that there is a strong chance Romero will be able to crack the big league roster as a reliever next year.
On the one hand, it's easy to see why the Rays have faith, as Romero definitely has his positives in a relief role. Last year, his fastball averaged a healthy 97.23 miles per hour, and we have already seen a hard-throwing lefty reliever get by on a fastball alone in Jake McGee. His curve also had its moments, with opposing batters hitting .250 with no extra base hits against the pitch.
On top of that, Romero had some bad luck as his .400 BABIP against and 67.2 percent strand rate indicate. ERA estimators like his 2.80 FIP, 3.84 xFIP and 3.62 SIERA show that his 5.10 ERA might not really be representative of his true body of work.
In a small sample size of 12.1 innings spanning nine relief outings, Romero has also performed well in the Liga de Besibol Dominicano, pitching to a 2.92 ERA and 9-to-4 K-to-BB ratio.
On the other hand, Romero's command has been a big issue and might never be fixed. McGee has been able to live off of his high-90's fastball because of his exceptional ability to spot the pitch. Romero, meanwhile, does not have the same command, and despite his velocity, opposing batters still hit .321 and slugged .417 against his fastball last season.
Given that, it is important for Romero to have quality secondary stuff, but his slider/cutter, which he threw more often than the more-successful curve, remains raw and was mashed to the tune of a .313 average and .500 slugging percentage last year. He also threw just four changeups, which could eventually expose him against opposite-handed batters, but he also did not look like a potential lefty specialist as left-handers posted a .415 wOBA against him compared to a .311 mark from righties.
Beyond that, Romero seemed to lose his composure on the mound a few times. There were a few outings where he allowed a baserunner, started showing poor body language, and ended up losing his command. This certainly cannot continue if he wants to be a successful big-leaguer.
Romero may not be 100 percent guaranteed a roster spot next season, but if the Rays had significant doubts about his ability to join Xavier Cedeno and McGee as the third lefty in the bullpen, he would have been taken off of the 40-man roster by now. He has yet to fully justify their belief in him, but Romero certainly has upside, and we will have to wait and see if the faith the Rays have shown in him will be rewarded.
Pitch data used in this article is courtesy of Brooks Baseball.