Jamie Romak knows he can hit. Now he just wants to show everyone else he can too.
Drafted in the fourth round of the 2003 draft, the Canadian outfielder has long battled injuries in the Atlanta Braves' farm system. Two weeks after he reported to the Gulf Coast League in the summer of 2003, Romak started having pain in his lower back. It lingered for several years. Then last season, when he was playing for Danville in the Appalachian League, he broke his wrist sliding into a bag, missing the last six weeks of the season.
But now, knock on wood, he's finally healthy.
"This is the first spring since I've signed that I've felt 100% with no pain," Romak said. "It's been unbelievably frustrating. Baseball's my love. This is my life. To see the guys I was drafted with excel at the higher levels and having to wait back and just make sure I'm healthy before I can move up has been frustrating."
When the Braves drafted Romak three years ago out of London, Ontario, they envisioned him becoming a power-hitting corner infielder or outfielder. He mostly played shortstop in high school, at least until he started outgrowing the position. When he came to the GCL, he had only been at third base for a short while.
"I was just learning the position," he said. "I have played all over the place. When I played for the (Canadian) National Team I had to play the outfield. I've played a little first base, but just before the draft I started playing third base."
But with Andy Marte, Eric Campbell, and Van Pope, all solid third base prospects, ahead of Romak, the Braves decided to move him once again. So last spring he made the permanent switch to the outfield.
"I really wasn't disappointed at all," Romak said. "I love to play baseball. If you're a baseball player, you can play all over. It was another challenge for me as a baseball player. It really helped me relax. When you're in the outfield, the play comes a lot slower to you. There's not as many defensive pressures to worry about, so I was able to concentrate on my hitting."
That's one thing the Braves knew Romak would be able to master. The first day he put on a Braves' uniform, in July of 2003, Romak put on a show on the back fields of Disney's Wide World of Sports. With former top pick Matt Butler pitching to him, Romak hit several balls into the Disney parking lot. The Braves believed they had a right-handed version of Scott Thorman, a player capable of developing into a top power hitting prospect.
"I think when the Braves drafted me, that's what they were hoping for," Romak said. "I would just like to get my 500 at bats so I can show people what I can do."
Unfortunately, after parts of three minor league seasons, Romak doesn't have that many at bats in his entire career. The back pain caused him to play in only nineteen games in 2003 in the GCL. He hit only .176 in 51 at bats. Then in Danville in 2004 he had showed glimpses of his power, hitting five home runs in 158 at bats, despite a disappointing .190 average.
Last year in Danville the six-foot-two, 220-pounder was finally showing what he was capable of, hitting .274 with seven home runs and 27 RBI in 124 at bats - and then he got hurt - again.
"I don't think the Braves have really seen what they've got in me yet," Romak said. "I'm just keeping my fingers crossed for a healthy year this year, and I know good things will happen."
Romak is not too worried about the injuries putting him behind other players. He was only seventeen years old in his first season, and he'll play this year at twenty. With the way the Braves have promoted their young talent over the past few years, it's easy for Romak to wonder where he'll be in 2008 or 2010. But for now, he's just enjoying the rise up the minor league ladder.
"I'm soaking everything up everyday," Romak said. "Learning lots. I had the opportunity to play in the big league game against the Mets, a sold out crowd. That was awesome. It's been a ton of fun. It gives you more confidence to play at that level and to know you can play there too. There's so many things I still have to learn."
Including more about the outfield, where he has made great strides in the last year. Romak's athleticism has made the transition seamless, but it's still been a learning process.
"You really have to keep your focus, especially when you get into the higher levels and there are more fans," he explained. "There's a lot of outside distractions. In the Appy League last year some of the stadiums don't have the best lighting, so you've got to battle that too. But they give us so much time down here and so much extra work that you can't help but get better really. They're right there with you. If you make a mistake, who cares. Just work it off. I personally feel like I'm getting better and better every game out there. So I'm enjoying it."
Romak will head to Rome this season, playing in the South Atlantic League. He'll be apart of a group of players that led Danville to the best record (47-20) in the Appy League last season, including Eric Campbell, Max Ramirez, and eventually Jon Mark Owings. Phenom Elvis Andrus is slated for Rome as well.
"It's going to be awesome," Romak believes. "It's going to be really good. We have a real good group of young, core players from Danville. Give us 500 at bats over the course of 140 games and I think people will be surprised to hear some new names coming up through the ladder. We've got some good players. We'll surprise some people I think."
Romak's got the ability to be one of the surprises of the farm system this year. He's strong as an ox, and has the ability to hit for tremendous power. But it's not about his hitting stroke or swinging at bad pitches for this guy. If Romak stays healthy, the Braves are confident he'll establish himself as a top power hitting prospect.
"The big thing I've battled more than anything in pro ball is myself - keeping myself healthy," Romak said. "I think this is obviously a huge year for me. If I can go out and have a big year like I know I can, then things will take off and I think I can catch up with those guys I was drafted with. As long as I stay healthy, things will work out. Baseball has a way of working itself out, and I figure if I keep working hard and stay healthy good things will happen."
The Braves believe so too.
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional front office philosophies. Email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Romak ready for a full, healthy season
Atlanta Dugout Top Stories
Dustin Peterson's improvement continuesWho has likely been the player of the year in the Braves' farm system? Most likely Dustin Peterson in Mississippi.
Adonis Garcia giving Atlanta options at 3BBill Shanks has some impressive numbers on Adonis Garcia, who is giving the Braves options for third base for the future.
Braves get two prospects for CervenkaThe Braves have added two more young players with the trade of reliever Hunter Cervenka to Miami.