You could call Toronto Blue Jays right-handed pitching prospect Jordan Romano an "accidental pitcher"; the Markham, ON, native was a catcher for his high school team, but a broken foot forced him to switch to the mound. Three years later, after a pair of seasons at an Oklahoma junior college, and a year closing games for Oral Roberts, he was selected in the 10th round of the 2014 draft. After blowing out his elbow the following spring, the tall, lanky prospect had to sit out the 2015 season, and didn't make his 2016 debut until June. Call him whatever you want, but after 6 innings of 2-hit ball, with 10 strikeouts for Lansing against Dayton in Midwest League action last night, you can also call him a Blue Jays prospect on the rise.
It would be cliche to call Romano a typically gritty Canadian (one of five on the Lugnuts' roster, in fact), but consider this: when he tore his UCL toward the end of spring training in 2015, he stayed in for one more pitch, and retired the hitter on a wicked slider. His has been a long and winding road, but he has firmly placed himself on the prospect map this season.
The 6'4", 200 Romano is an imposing presence on the mound. Working from a simplified delivery, he parts his hands during his delivery for some scapular loading. With his size, he does take a while to deliver the ball, but he has worked hard to vary his timing to help keep runners on.
After an hour long rain delay, Romano took to the mound against Dayton, the Reds' Low-A affiliate. Usually, they field a competitive team, and the Dragons are one of the best-drawing teams in minor league baseball, but this year's edition is some 40 games under .500. They proved to be giant killers against Lansing in the first two games of the series, however, storming back from a 10-3 deficit with 8 unanswered runs (in what may become known as the Rally Skunk game one day) to take the second. With Lansing locked in a battle for the final Eastern Division playoff berth, this game had added importance to the Lugnuts.
In the first inning, Romano perhaps showed the effects of the rain delay, as he walked the leadoff hitter, then gave up a single. Facing Nick Senzel, the 2nd overall pick in the June draft (and a leader in most MWL offensive categories if he had enough ABs to qualify), Romano gave up a long fly ball that LF Connor Panas had to make a leaping catch against the wall on to record the first out of the inning.
Romano quickly regained his composure, and struck out the next two hitters swinging to end the inning. In fact, he set down 17 of the next 18 hitters he faced after Senzel's flyout, and could have easily retired 17 straight if not for RF Lane Thomas taking a circuitous route to a deep flyball by Senzel in the swirling Dayton winds in the 4th.
Romano came back out for the 7th inning, but was removed after only 4 pitches. With the count at 1-1 on the lead off hitter, Romano let loose with a pair of wild pitches up and out of the strike zone. He seemed to flinch after what proved to be his final pitch, quickly bringing out Manager John Schneider, Pitching Coach Jeff Ware, and the Lansing trainer to the mound. At that point, the Dayton feed on milb.tv put a Dragons' logo up on the screen, so it was impossible to judge from Romano's reaction the potential extent of his injury - something clearly was not right, and with one Tommy John surgery already on his medical record, Schneider immediately called to the bullpen. Romano said this afternoon that his removal was precautionary, and he should be on track to make his next start.
Romano ended this contest with a career-high 10 Ks. After his 19-pitch first inning, he was very economical with his pitches, needing no more than 13 to get through any other frame. He threw 76 pitches on the night, an incredible 58 of them for strikes. To left-handed hitters, Romano was very efficient at painting the outside corner, and to righties, he threw a devastating fastball with good armside run to get up under their hands. The pitch would start in the middle of the plate, then tail to the inside, and hitters could not lay off of it when he elevated it with two strikes. Romano also had more zip on his fastball than usual last night, sitting 94-95, and touching 96 - he still had gas in that last inning, hitting 94.
Romano also showed good command of his slider. "I've definitely had nights where my slider was sharper but I could throw it where I wanted yesterday," he said when it was pointed out how effective the pitch was.
Romano threw 15 first-pitch strikes, and was behind only one hitter - the leadoff batter - the whole night. He had an astounding 18 swings-and-misses. Only two pitches were truly squared up on him (both by Senzel). It was truly a dominant performance, but unfortunately, Lansing was unable to provide him with much run support, and relievers Jackson Lowery and Andrew Case, who have both been lights out this month, allowed the tying and winning runs to score in the 7th and 8th.
Over the course of just over two months, Romano has firmly established himself in the top tier of the next wave of prospects in the system. He may not have the profile of a Jon Harris or even a Francisco Rios, but he's still developing, and still learning to pitch. With his height, he gets good extension, and creates a good downward plane with his fastball. The Blue Jays may have uncovered yet another good arm.
Here is that AB against Senzel in the 6th: