About this time last year Stefen Romero was the prospect du jour for the Seattle Mariners and those who follow their minor leagues closely. Fresh off of a monster season split between High-A High Desert and Double-A Jackson, I was getting questions daily that were all around the same theme.
"Can Romero be the right-handed power bat the M's so desperately need?"
"Do you think Romero has 30-homer potential?"
"Do you see Romero as a .300/.350/.550-type hitter in the big leagues?"
"Can Romero handle second base in the big leagues?"
"Can Romero handle third base in the big leagues?"
"Can Romero handle an outfield corner in the big leagues?"
"Do you think Stefen Romero will father my children?"
I can't remember if I was ever directly asked that last one, but it seems like the love was definitely headed in that direction.
Despite moving up to Triple-A Tacoma and performing reasonably well at the plate while getting acclimated to a new position, the love cooled a bit for Romero this season. And as fans are wont to do, the nature of the questions I have been getting over the last six or seven months have changed, too. Basically every question I get now is:
"Do you think we can we trade Romero to [X] for [Y]?"
Yes, fans are fickle. And, yes, minor league stats can be misleading. Tonight in the Arizona Fall League Fall Stars Game -- the first such game with it's new catchy name -- Romero had himself what you might call a fine night at the plate. Entering in the top of the 6th inning as a defensive replacement for Delino DeShields, Jr. of the Astros (who made an ugly attempt at a pretty routine, albeit deep, fly ball early in the game) in the top of the 6th, Romero got two plate appearances, saw three pitches, and hit two opposite field home runs off of two pretty decent pitching prospects.
If you didn't watch the game, bummer for you. But I can sort of show you what it looked like:
Not the most pitcher-y of pitches there, as both pitches he hit out certainly caught huge chunks of a bad part of the strike zone if you're a pitcher. But both of the homers were still nice accomplishments for Romero.
The first was hit off of 24-year-old lefty Mike Montgomery. You may remember the name Mike Montgomery from his super highly rated days as a prospect for the Kansas City Royals. He had some arm issues in 2010 that knocked him out of action for a few months and really hasn't been the same since. He was dealt to Tampa Bay as part of the James Shields-Wil Myers trade last off-season and posted a 4.72 ERA (4.35 FIP) in Triple-A for them this season. He once had stuff that scouts saw as the makings of a potential No. 2 starter, but his velocity has dropped off and his curve isn't as consistently sharp as it used to be. Still, Montgomery pitched 108 2/3 innings during the 2013 regular season and allowed just nine home runs to opposing International League batters. He has been working out of the bullpen in the AFL, and despite the favorable hitting conditions known to be present this time of year in Arizona, he hadn't allowed a long ball in his 8 1/3 innings before facing Romero tonight.
The 92-mph fastball that Romero hit from Montgomery wasn't well located, but it was still the very first pitch that Romero saw on the night after sitting for five innings. He made loud contact and hit the ball out easily to straight away right field. The home run came so quickly that MLB Network announcer Paul Severino didn't even have time to learn Romero's name, twice calling him "Steven" as he rounded the bases.
The second home run was hit off of 21-year-old right-hander Corey Knebel. Knebel was the last pick of the 2013 first round by the Detroit Tigers, and he was coming off of a very successful first pro season which saw the 6-foot-3 Texan strike out 41 batters while allowing just 24 baserunners in his 31 innings of work in the Midwest League. He had added six strong innings in the AFL to date before tonight's game, too, and over that span combined right-handed hitters were just 8 for 70 against him. He also hadn't allowed a home run as a pro before Romero took him deep, on a sharp 81-mph curveball.
Again, not super well located, but that curve backed up a first pitch 96-mph fastball from Knebel. Romero did some work here. And again, very loud contact and another home run to straight away right field for Stefen.
Yes, Stefen Romero is now 25 and is older than most of the players in the AFL. But he has shown that he is a good hitter for both average and power that has strong contact rates and that hits consistent line drives with ocassional outbursts of power. As I pointed out of Twitter earlier in the night, while he hit just 11 home runs on the year for Tacoma in 93 games, he hit five home runs in his last 11 games of the season. He has some real power.
Romero also had an abnormally -- for him and for right-handed hitters in general -- low split against left-handed pitching in 2013: .213/.316/.363. That line really took the strong work he did against same-handed pitching (.295/.335/.471) down a notch, making his overall season line look pretty pedestrian. For his career Romero has been a stronger hitter against lefties than righties (.885 OPS and .209 ISO to .859 OPS and .198 ISO), so we should expect him to rebound against left-handed pitching going forward.
All of this is to say that despite his falloff from 2012 to 2013, his performance in the Fall Stars game should remind us all that Stefen Romero is still a prospect that Mariners fans should be excited about.
Rick Randall regularly contributes on Mariners prospects here at Lookout Landing. You can catch his more frequent and more detailed takes on those prospects, and the entire Mariners system, at his website SeattleClubhouse. He can also be found on Twitter, where he loves to answer questions, at @randallball.