Manager Lloyd McClendon, GM Jack Zduriencik and Director of Player Development Chris Gwynn all said it at the Mariners' annual pre-Spring Training Luncheon. Stefen Romero, being a talented right-handed hitter with some promise in his bat on a team needing both, has a real shot to make some things happen for himself this year. With the way he's performed the past few days, it seems like the 25-year-old is ready for those things to happen now.
The M's 2012 Minor League Player of the Year, Romero started the Cactus League season slowly, going 0-for-12 and striking out four times over his first five games. But he's been impressive since, knocking out two triples in his last two games before getting his first home run of the spring and a double in last night's 8-to-5 win over the Dodgers. That brings his spring average up to just .182, but he's slugging a very strong .545 now, too, and hasn't struck out in his last 10 plate appearances. And while spring stats truly don't matter, the manner in which players get those stats certainly does. His homer to left tonight came on a 1-2 fastball from Dodgers starter Josh Beckett, and while he did miss his spot, it was nice to see Romero pull the ball with authority against a legitimate MLB starter when down in the count. In his next at bat Romero doubled to left off of former Mariner reliever Jamey Wright, another veteran with a lot of quality MLB experience on his resumé. After what some consider a down year in 2013, Stefen is showing that he deserves a long look this spring for a big league job.
Not to be overlooked, Romero also made a strong throw on an (admittedly pretty shallow) outfield pop off the bat of Hanley Ramirez, nailing the very speedy Dee Gordon at home on a perfect one-hop strike to end the fifth. While his bat will certainly be his ticket, improved play in the outfield is what the Mariners want to see from Stefen in order to be confident that carrying him on the roster is a wise move.
Seattle's 12th round selection in the 2010 draft, Romero is a career .306/.357/.506 hitter in three seasons in the minor leagues with the M's. But he was a third baseman in college at Oregon State and played primarily second base as a pro until last year. He saw 73 starts in left field for Tacoma in 2013 and didn't commit an error, but as he admitted to me in our interview in January, the position definitely took some time to get used to. But Romero is an athletic guy and a confident guy, and he said that he feels like an outfielder now.
Being right-handed makes Romero stand out among the current outfield group for the Mariners of Dustin Ackley, Michael Saunders, Logan Morrison, Abraham Almonte and Corey Hart, with only Hart -- who is coming off of microfracture surgery and missing the entire 2013 season -- hitting from the right side. Seattle was rumored to have significant interest in Nelson Cruz before he signed in Baltimore and Morrison and Hart are probably best suited to first base and DH for the majority of their time. If Romero can continue to impress with the bat, he could become one potential answer to the Mariners' needs for another outfielder and some right-handed pop, forcing his way onto the big league roster.
Romero tallied just 11 homers in his 98 games in 2013, but four of those came over his last seven games of the season, when he was finally healthy enough to roll out there every day for the Rainiers. He isn't going to be a 30-plus home run guy at the major leagues, but there is real extra base power in his bat. The No. 7 Mariners prospect on our Top-50 countdown this year, Romero's tools play up because of his advanced mental approach, something that Gwynn told me, " is what sets him apart."
Setting himself apart is exactly what Romero is trying to do in Arizona this spring. And the results over the past few days seem to say that it is working.
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