Another group of qualified pitchers waits in the wings. Among them is left-hander Enny Romero, an international free agent the team signed in 2008 from the Dominican Republic.
Romero is No. 5 on Tampa Bay's Top 20 Prospect list.
I have seen Romero pitch in Spring Training and in the 2012, '13 and '14 Futures Games. He worked one inning in the recent SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game in Minneapolis, giving up no runs and one hit.
Romero has an "electric" arm. His main pitch is a sinking fastball that hits 97 mph without much effort. Romero does a good job of changing speeds, altering his velocity from 92 or 93 mph upwards. If his fastball is working well and if he's throwing strikes, his secondary pitches are all the more meaningful -- they include an 82-mph hard slider (or slurve) and an 86-mph changeup.
While the slider is an efficient second pitch, the changeup still needs refinement to gain Romero's confidence. Once he feels he can throw his secondary pitches for strikes, he could take his place on the Rays' staff. The 23-year-old does a fine job of setting up the slider as an "out pitch" after using the fastball early in counts. However, Romero does have to guard against hitters "sitting" on the fastball.
With the exception of one start Romero received with the big league club on Sept. 22 last year, he has pitched parts of seven seasons in Tampa Bay's Minor League system. His current assignment is at Triple-A Durham. Romero's best season was last year, when he pitched at Double-A Montgomery, where he started 27 games, pitched to an outstanding 2.76 ERA and yielded only 110 hits in 140 1/3 innings. However, he was walking 4.7 hitters per nine innings, which inflated his WHIP to 1.304.
Ironically, Romero has more success against right-handed batters than he does against lefties. It doesn't usually work that way. In fact, the reverse splits have been the norm over the past two years. Another factor comes to play regarding overall hitting results against Romero: He isn't a dominant strikeout pitcher -- players generally put the ball in play when facing him.
The depth of the Rays' organizational pitching might dictate a future role for Romero. Should he continue pitching as a starter or be used exclusively out of the bullpen? It's a question countless clubs have asked regarding high-velocity pitchers. The question was asked regarding Max Scherzer when he pitched for the D-backs. It was asked of Chris Sale with the White Sox and Carlos Carrasco of the Indians. The answer generally rests with his ability to throw strikes, retain velocity and movement over multiple innings and get hitters out from both sides of the plate.
Given their existing starting pitching depth and prospects like Alex Colome, Nate Karns and Mike Montgomery also waiting in the wings, Romero moving to the bullpen certainly isn't out of the question.