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Tommy Romero is ready to impact the Rays

The Rays pitching prospect may have a few names ahead of him in the depth chart, but that doesn’t mean he won’t pitch important innings for the 2022 club.

Colombia v Puerto Rico - Serie del Caribe 2021 Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images

The Rays acquired Tommy Romero from the Mariners in 2018 when they traded Denard Span in May of that year. At the time, he was one of the leading strikeout pitchers in low-A, but at just 20 years old, there was still a long way to go. Now with dominant stints in double-A and triple-A under his belt, the Fort Lauderdale native is poised to play a role for the 2022 Rays.

When the Rays brought Romero in, he looked like a fringe starter with bullpen risk, thanks to a fastball with both average velocity and spin, as well as a lack of a plus secondary pitch.

Here is what Baseball Prospectus had to say about him in June of 2018:

The velocity is average, but the heavy fastball pairs well with the change which has the potential to be a true out pitch. The curve development is key. Without further advancement, Romero might be destined for a bullpen role. If it can manifest into a minimum league-average offering, there is opportunity to remain a starter.

These days, the talk about that lack of a plus secondary remains, but so has Romero’s success as a starter, as he ripped through double-A lineups to the tune of a 1.88 ERA and a malevolent 39.3 percent strikeout rate. After a promotion to Durham, his numbers came down to earth a bit, but they were still more than impressive. In 62 13 innings with the Bulls, Romero posted a 3.18 ERA and a 29.3 percent strikeout rate.

The Rays, being the savvy team that they are, have helped Romero stay a starter while circumventing having to develop a plus secondary, thanks to a fastball that gets swings and misses at a high rate. The velocity and spin rate are still average, so something else is going on here. A few weeks ago, Baseball Prospectus released its Rays prospect list for 2022, and here is what they now have to say about Romero:

Set your Rays arm clock for noon, and watch Romero pump low-90s fastball by upper-minors hitters. He dominated Double-A and Triple-A without a clear above-average secondary [...] but the swings tell you all you need to know about how good the fastball plays now. Late swings against, swinging under balls at the top of the zone, and just plenty of whiffs generally.

As much as I personally despised the Rays arm slot clock that was touted in the 2020 Postseason, I think it is worth bringing back here for the context of this blurb. Noon? let’s investigate. Below is a video where I froze the video at Romero’s release point, so we can see what is meant by ‘noon.’

That is about as vertical a release point as one can get without the help of a mechanical armed pitching machine. Spin efficiency data is tough to come by even in the upper minors, but I can infer here that he has more than enough of this quality on his fastball to make up for what he may lack in velocity and spin rate. Because of this, he is able to get swings and misses at such a high clip.

Here is another angle of Romero throwing a fastball, and again we can see how unique his release point is.

Romero’s atypical delivery as a whole is incredibly deceptive from the vantage point of the hitter. Not only is the release point vertical, it is low and with great extension. All of this adds to the swing and miss quality, as the spin efficiency maximizes Magnus forces (rise), while the low release point created a more challenging angle, and the extension adds effective velocity.

It is difficult to find a good comp for Romero’s fastball, especially when it comes to starters or bulk pitchers. The way he contorts his body to get to his release point may remind you of Oliver Drake, but Drake releases the ball so far to the first base side of the rubber that he may as well be left-handed. Additionally, Drake is a one inning middle reliever. In contrast, Romero’s release point is low and centered, and he will be expected to turn lineups over once he gets the call.

Of the current set of Rays players, JP Feyereisen and Nick Anderson come to mind as well, considering they both have a swing and miss quality to their four-seamers, but once again, they are both one inning relievers.

To be fair, many scouts still believe that this is where Romero may be headed if he can’t develop at least one plus secondary, but based on what we know about the Rays and how they develop pitching, I don’t expect him to be relegated to bullpen duty anytime soon.