3. Drew Romo (546 points, 20 ballots)
Drew Romo represents an investment the Rockies hadn’t made since the 1998 draft by becoming the first catcher drafted in the top 100 of the draft since then. In fact, Romo is the highest catcher ever drafted by Colorado at 35th overall in 2020 (he signed for a slot $2.1M bonus). The 6’1”, 205-pound 20-year-old is a member of quite possibly the riskiest prospect demographic out there: a high school catcher who is also a switch-hitter to boot. Still, Romo provides a strong floor as an elite defensive player with Gold Glove potential behind the plate and had a fantastic 2021 debut campaign that got him on some overall top 100 lists entering 2022.
As much as Romo’s prospect profile at draft time focused on his defense, it was his offensive debut in 2021 that really opened eyes around baseball. Romo opened 2021 as one of the youngest players in Low-A — 2.1 years younger than league average. In 339 plate appearances across 79 games with Fresno, Romo hit .314/.345/.439 with six homers, 25 extra-base hits, and 23 steals in 29 attempts. Those stats look great superficially, but Romo’s low walk rate (6%) meant his high batting average was doing most of the work en route to a 104 wRC+. Then again, considering Romo’s youth and defensive position, an above league average offensive line is worth celebrating.
Romo started off slow with a .582 OPS in May, but he crushed the ball in June (1.025 OPS). Though he hit .313 in July, Romo did so without much power for a .674 OPS. He hit .344 in August with a .852 OPS but finished on a down note in September with a .536 OPS in eight games. Romo was clearly more comfortable hitting left-handed, as he slashed .351/.384/.484 against right-handers compared with a .218/.236/.322 line against lefties. Along with his low walk rate, Romo struck out 15% of the time.
Beyond his offense, Romo threw out 35% of potential base stealers behind the plate, though he did commit six errors and 12 passed balls. In all, you’d prefer a few more walks, a bit more power, and cleaner stats behind the plate but there’s no denying Romo had an impressive professional debut. In four games to open 2022 in High-A Spokane, Romo is 7-for-18 with two doubles and a steal — not a bad way to start!
Here’s some video on Romo hitting from both sides of the plate and behind the dish defensively from fall instructs and some high school footage courtesy of FanGraphs:
In the January report accompanying the above video, FanGraphs ranked Romo second in the system as a 45+ FV prospect:
Romo was the best defensive catcher among the 2020 draft’s high schoolers. He had the best arm, as well as rare physicality and athleticism for a catcher, a walking, broad-shouldered embodiment of his home state. Romo also switch-hits and has huge raw power and bat speed, but there were serious pre-draft concerns about his ability to make contact. Those concerns drove some teams to think he’d head to school rather than sign, but the Rockies took him early enough to keep him from LSU. It would have been fine if Romo had endured a rocky pro debut with the bat, as he was considered a raw hitter, and he was carrying the new weight of a pro catcher’s daily responsibilities and physical grind. Guys like this tend to take time. But Romo had an impressive year, slashing .314/.345/.439 (continuing to build context for the re-aligned Low-A West, this was just 5% better than the league-average line) and posting a surprising 9% swinging strike rate (the big league average is 12%). At times too proactive in the batter’s box, Romo’s contact quality suffers from his lack of selectivity, and he managed a barrel rate south of 2% in 2021 despite the good-looking surface-level statline. Again, if there’s a player type to be patient with, it’s a huge-framed switch-hitter like Romo. His defensive ability gives him a floor of sorts, and his surprising ability to avoid whiffing in his first year is an encouraging sign that he might one day break out. He remains a high risk prospect with a chance to be an above-average regular.
That evaluation includes a 70 grade on the arm and future 60 grade for fielding and raw power.
Romo was a showcase stalwart with a plus arm and above-average defensive ability to go with above-average raw power. His contact ability ran hot and cold, but it seemed like he’d be at least solid offensively, not enough for me to think he’d separate from the competition. I was wrong. In his 2021 pro debut at low-A, at age 19, he hit .314 with a 6% walk rate and a 15% strikeout rate. His power metrics were below average (you can’t have it all) but the raw power is in there already, and he’s advanced in all defensive phases, so the pieces are in place for another breakout.
Baseball Prospectus listed Romo as one of the prospects who just missed their Top 101 Prospects list in January:
[Romo] utilizes the whole field with a compact swing, and his keen plate awareness equated to a sub-15% strikeout rate. Romo produced 25 extra-base hits, six of which were home runs, and these numbers should continue to grow as the 6-foot-1, 205-pound 20-year-old matures and learns to better capitalize on his natural strength. He runs the bases well, and his 23 stolen bases in 29 attempts are a product of his savvy baseball instincts. Defensively, Romo is superb behind the plate where his athleticism and feel for the position are apparent in his receiving abilities and his strong throwing arm that thwarted 35% of would-be base stealers. The premium defense and ability to hit for average and power make Romo an exciting prospect who could develop into a perennial All-Star backstop in Colorado.
Baseball Prospectus slotted Romo in 4th in their November system rank as a 55 OFP player:
Romo has gotten off to the kind of start that makes you wonder if we’ve all made too much of a fuss over the poor track record of prep catchers. The concern with that cohort is how much defensive work/projection they need, but Romo already shows the potential for a plus glove. He has excellent body control behind the plate which helps with both blocking and receiving, and gets him out of the crouch quickly enough to let his above-average arm strength play to the full tool grade.
At the plate he’s more divisive, although the offensive upside here is higher than Tovar’s. Romo’s short stroke with good barrel control looks the same from either side of the plate, but his pitch recognition and swing decisions limit the hit and power upside to fringy at present. If he can get to more of his above-average raw pop as he adds reps up the organizational ladder, he could shoot up both the Rockies and national lists.
There is still no question that Romo’s defense is ahead of his bat. He’s a plus receiver with a plus arm, with impressive athleticism and agility that help him block well. He has good hands and his strong arm and quick release allowed him to throw out 35 percent of potential basestealers in his pro debut. Rockies pitchers already report how much they like throwing to him. He runs pretty well, especially for a catcher, and isn’t afraid to steal a base.
Concerns about Romo’s bat have certainly dissipated after he hit .314/.345/.439 with Fresno a year ago. Better from the left side of the plate, Romo has shown a knack for contact, striking out in just 14.7 percent of his plate appearances in 2021. He’ll need to continue to improve his patience at the plate so he can get to his raw power more, but he’s looking more and more like a big league regular, one whose name is creeping up into the conversation of best catching prospects in the game.
The evaluation is headlined by plus (60) grades on Romo’s arm and field tools and a 55 on the hit tool, while his power (45) and run (45) tools lag behind.
Romo was a surprise pick when Colorado took him in the sandwich round in 2020, in large part because scouts thought his commitment to college was too strong, and a surprise assignment to full-season ball at 19, in large part because scouts questioned his bat way back in high school. Romo then hit .314/.345/.439 for Low-A Fresno, with just a 14.7 percent strikeout rate and, most shocking of all, 23 steals in 30 attempts. He also nailed 35 percent of opposing runners, caught and framed well, and showed advanced game-management skills for a teenager. His bat will probably always lag his defense, but he has a short swing good barrel awareness that results in high contact rates. The offensive bar for a catcher who’s an asset behind the plate isn’t very high; MLB catchers hit a composite .229/.305/.391 in 2021, the worst line of any position. Romo already has the floor of a quality backup who plays a long time in the majors, but it looks more like he’ll be a regular whom coaches and pitchers love because he contributes in all of the other ways that matter.
Despite his 2021 success, Romo still represents a very risky prospect profile. Nonetheless, it’s a quite exciting profile where realistically the floor approaches MLB back-up catcher level while the ceiling is an All-Star switch-hitting player at the most difficult defensive position. I’m excited about Romo’s potential, ranking him second on my list with a 50 FV grade. Romo has responded well so far to aggressive assignments by the Rockies and could be in the big leagues in just a few years if this trajectory continues.