Top 30 Cincinnati Prospects: No. 21

In the 2011 draft Cincinnati took a flyer with a late round pick on would-be college pitcher Sal Romano. Four years later the big right-hander has made nice progress toward earlier projections and is on the verge of inserting his name in consideration in future Reds rotations.

It’s been a few years since the coup that brought Sal Romano into the Cincinnati system. Before the 2011 draft the consensus was that the former Connecticut High School Player of the Year had early round talent but interest in him was low because he was college bound, in Romano’s case he was actually college enrolled at the University of Tennessee. That didn’t dissuade the Reds from rolling the dice with their 23rd round selection. After going over slot with a signing bonus, and putting an education provision into the deal the big (6’4”/250#) right-hander was brought into the fold.

Now, after three years the project is going quite well. Normally draft picks out of high school debut in the Arizona League, but Cincinnati opted to do things a bit differently with Romano and their first round selection, Robert Stephenson; neither pitched competitively until a year later at Billings. The delay didn’t prevent a fast-track and Romano moved to Dayton in 2013 for a full season while still a teenager. Even though he returned to the Dragons in 2014 he was still competing against older completion against which he slashed his ERA by more than half a run down to a low four while leading the league in innings pitched and making a second All Star appearance. Most young pitching prospects needed to improve command and last year Romano accomplished an impressive combination of both lowering his BB/9 inn over 40% down to 2.5 while increasing his K/nine to almost eight.

Now he’s set to move up the new Cincinnati high-A affiliate in Daytona. Though young, a nice first half will probably punch his ticket across the state to Pensacola. On the mound he brings low/mid-90’s heat with potentially a couple more ticks left in his upside. He compliments that with a decent curve, but his changeup needs development.

Everyone loves it when a plan comes together. Romano came out of high school projecting as an innings-eater at the MLB level with potential to add velocity as his body filled out. The velocity is coming and he still profiles as a workhorse. Development of a third offering is needed, but Cincinnati will probably arrange several sessions with changeup guru Mario Soto before they’ll even consider letting a limited repertoire move him to the bullpen.

There are a lot of high profile pitching prospects in the Cincinnati system and because Romano entered needing a little more polish he’s been lagging slightly behind some of them. That hasn’t preventing him from making nice progress up the pipeline and he’s in position to crack the AA level. His WHIP indicates he needs to get stingier allowing base-runners and he may run into some bumps in the road against higher level hitters. Still, he’s only 21 years old and there will be plenty of time to smooth them out. Development of secondary pitches will do a lot for that by preventing opposing hitters from sitting on his fastball

Four years later Cincinnati probably feels like they made out like bandits with their 2011 23rd round selection. There’s also no shortage of anticipation to see if their big right-hander can continue progress at new levels. He still profiles as a reliable mid/back-end rotation pitcher and development of off-speed pitches this season will do a lot to vault him up this list significantly one year from now.

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