Every year at draft time or when the international signing period begins the Cincinnati Reds pick up a whole new group of young players. We get stats on some of them and scouting reports on most of them. Within those scouting reports we often hear the word projection. It’s something that people foresee happening in the future based on current factors.
Let’s travel back in time to June 7, 2011. It was the second day of the draft. The Cincinnati Reds took a 17-year-old right hander in the 23rd round that year named Sal Romano. He was listed at 6′ 5″ and 225 lbs, at seventeen. The pre-draft scouting reports all talked about his projection and how in time, with the work on his mechanics and just natural progression, he would pick up plenty of velocity from the current 88-90 MPH that he was throwing. Projection. It was in there, it was just going to take time to come around.
The Reds signed Romano late that summer and he didn’t make his debut until the next year, pitching for the Billings Mustangs as an 18-year-old in their rotation. That season he saw a small uptick in his velocity as reports had him throwing 89-92 on the season. Last season he found himself in Dayton, still a teenager at just 19, he again picked up a slight amount of velocity. While he was still working in that 89-92 range for the most part, he was touching 94 more often than he had the season before. Slowly things began to move forward with what was seen by scouts when he was just a 17-year-old high schooler.
Now let’s go back to April of 2014, Romano is now a 20-year old pitcher who stands at 6′ 5″ and 254 lbs according to the official Dayton Dragons media guide. The big right hander was returning to Dayton where he had spent the entire season before. It was April, and it was 43° outside. And it was windy. The conditions were not ideal at all for baseball, much less to be pitching, but that’s what you get in the Midwest League early on in April. Cold weather.
It was the first start of the year for Romano, in that cold weather on a windy night. Yet in the first through third innings he was sitting 91-94 MPH. That was a big jump from where he had been the year before. I missed the fourth inning for some reason, as it jumps right over it in my actual notebook that I keep my reports in, but the fifth inning saw the velocity drop down to the 90-91 range. Then in the sixth it ticked back up to 91-92 with a few 93’s mixed in. Overall on the night, the velocity was up quite a bit from the year before and he held that 91-93 most of the night with more than a few 94’s mixed in. Some of that projection was becoming reality.
What about the last time that I saw him pitch on July 28th, just two weeks ago, in a game where he set a career high with 10 strikeouts in just 5.0 innings pitched? Well, we may have seen the full circle going from projection to reality.
10 strikeouts is good for a full game’s worth of work, but to get it in with just five innings was very impressive. He worked a lot with his fastball and breaking ball, though he also mixed in some change ups. Two things really stood out though compared to earlier parts of his career. The first thing was the fastball velocity. Romano was throwing 93-95 MPH all game long and touched 97. According to team sources, he was there the two starts before as well. The velocity uptick was recent, but not just a one game blip either.
The other big difference was in the breaking ball. In past years Romano had leaned on a solid breaking ball in the 74-77 MPH range with two plane breaking action. It was a good pitch when it was at it’s best. This season though he’s thrown the pitch significantly harder while maintaining the same breaking action on it. The pitch now works in the 82-85 MPH range and is a true power curveball. Not only has the fastball velocity picked up, the breaking ball has as well.
Here’s a quick chart showing the fastball velocity climb for Romano over the years. You can see small jumps, but in 2014 things really took a big jump.
Aside from the big jump in velocity, Romano has been able to put together a strong season due to much better control in the 2014 season. His walk rate is nearly half of what it was last year. He’s been able to throw more strikes with the fastball and the breaking ball. The overall package for Romano has really taken a big step forward this season. Velocity, consistency, control, it’s all been better this year. The right hander has gone from solid prospect with potential to good prospect fulfilling that potential.