Stefen Romero looks like another coup by Mariners scouting director Tom McNamara, who grabbed him in the 12th round out of Oregon State in the 2010 draft. Most teams had pulled off Romero after he fractured his right (throwing) elbow during a regional playoff game against Arizona State just two weeks before the draft.
Now he’s the fastest-rising hitting prospect in the Mariners’ farm system following a season in which hit hit .352 with 64 extra-base hits (34 doubles, seven triples, 23 homers) between High Desert and Jackson. That earned him Mariners’ Minor Leaguer of the Year honors, and resulted in him being ranked the Mariners’ No. 8 prospect by Baseball America. One thing impressive about Romero is that after piling up stats in the hitter’s paradise that is High Desert, he went to Jackson and did even better: .347 with a .620 slugging percentage, compared to .581 slugging in High Desert. And in the Arizona Fall League, he hit .333 with two homers and nine RBIs in 45 at-bats.
It’s remarkable how similar Romero’s stats were last year to Vinnie Catricala the year before. Catricala also split time between High Desert and Jackson and hit .349 with 25 homers rand 106 RBIs, with a combined .421 on-base and.601 slugging. Romero went .352/.391/599 with 23 homers and 101 RBIs. Catricala then went onto have a disappointing season with Tacoma in 2012, hitting .229/.292/.348 with 10 homers and 60 RBIs. Catricala, like Romero, is 24 (in fact, they were born 14 days apart in 1988) and still on the radar, but this is an important year for him to get back on track. A big question with both players is what their ultimate position will be. For Romero, he was a second baseman in junior college, a corner infielder at Oregon State, and mostly a second baseman so far in the pros while dabbling at the corners and in the outfield.
He told me this morning,”There’s some talk I might be going back to third base. For the most part in big-league camp, I’ve been at third and second primarily. If I get in the outfield, I get in the outfield, or first base – whatever situation is thrown at me, just go with it and perform to the best of my abilities.”
Romero lost about 20 to 25 pounds after turning pro, giving him the quickness necessary for a middle infielder.
“I’ve been playing second base ever since in my pro career so I feel pretty comfortable at second base,” he said. “But no matter where they put me, I have to feel comfortable. Even if I’m uncomfortable, I’ve still got to feel comfortable at that position.”
Romero, who is listed as 6-2, 220, is thrilled to be in his first big-league camp (though he was brought up from the minor-league camp often last spring and actually had 10 at-bats in Cactus League games, producing five hits and catching the eye of manager Eric Wedge).
“It’s definitely awesome seeing guys you see on television, like Felix, Raul Ibanez last year in the postseason. Just seeing guys up close, their work ethic, not just for myself but the other young guys in camp, it actually motivates us and shows us how to become a big leaguer, how to stay in the big leagues, and just be around a great group of guys.”
Romero says his goal is to make it up to the big leagues at some point this season.
“Definitely. That’s on all the prospects to-do or goal list this season. But for me, it’s definitely to end up in the big leagues at some point, in the early part of the year, middle, end of the year, September callup, it doesn’t matter as long as I can contribute to the team in some way throughout the year this year.”