4. Drew Romo (645 points, 24 ballots)
In my opinion, Drew Romo is Colorado’s catcher of the future, full stop. The 21-year-old backstop is on or just missing top 100 prospect lists, he was above average offensively as one of the younger players in High-A until a hand injury, and he possesses elite defensive traits behind the plate. Romo was the first catcher the Rockies had drafted in the top 100 picks of the draft since 1998 (he was the highest the franchise has ever picked at 35th overall in 2020, signing for a slot $2.1 million bonus).
The 6’1”, 205-pound catcher 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. His 2022 mostly solidified that standing among scouts.
Romo was assigned to High-A Spokane in 2022, where he was 2.5 years younger than league average. Romo started off hot with a .884 OPS in April, but cooled off a bit in May (.756 OPS) and June (.761 OPS). He was hit on his hand in July and just wasn’t the same player down the stretch (.545 OPS in July). In fact, he was limited to DH duty from August on. Romo had a strong .280/.348/.408 line before the hand injury but hit just .165/.228/.247 in the 92 plate appearances after the injury in August/September.
With that caveat, Romo’s season line of .254/.321/.372 (95 wRC+) with five homers, five triples, and 19 doubles with 18 steals in 21 attempts isn’t bad at all for a 20-year-old catcher in High-A ball. He hit much better from the right side in a small sample, having produced a .854 OPS on that side but a .645 OPS from the left side. That’s the opposite of 2021, when Romo had an OPS from the left side that was over 300 points higher than the right side. Also of note: only 16 of Romo’s 759 professional plate appearances have come against a pitcher who was younger than him.
Romo struck out in 19% of his PA and walking in 8%, a perfectly acceptable split given his defensive utility. Speaking of that, he didn’t have gaudy stats behind the plate (18% caught stealing, eight errors, eight passed balls), but scouts nonetheless give him high marks. 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 a strong second professional season before his injury.
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 addition, here’s some of Romo’s highlights from 2022.
In their top 100 prospect list released yesterday, Fangraphs ranked Romo 85th overall as a 50 FV prospect, third in the system:
Romo has a plus glove and plus-plus arm but likely won’t make a huge offensive impact.
Romo is a plus-gloved catching prospect with uncommon feel for contact from both sides of the plate, though the contact he makes is not very hard. He had his second straight fair offensive season as a pro, as he produced a 95 wRC+ at High-A, mostly thanks to his ability to put balls in play. Romo’s offensive performance is impressive considering he only turned 21 near the end of the 2022 season, though in another sense it’s troubling because he’s such a physical guy and yet has such poor ball-striking power. It’s fair to consider him a high-floor, low-variance prospect because Romo’s defensive ability and rocket arm make him very likely to be a plus defender at maturity, and even a one-note style of offense (Romo both lacks power and is relatively impatient) tends to profile at catcher.
The evaluation is highlighted by a plus-plus (70) grade on the arm and a plus defensive grade.
When healthy, the switch-hitter has shown the ability to make consistent hard contact. He was better from the right side of the plate in 2022, and while he did improve his walk rate a bit, he’s still a free swinger who could tap into his power more with better selectivity. His 2022 production plummeted in the second half, with a .502 OPS and a 24.8 strikeout rate from July 1 on, something he can show was caused by the injury and not regression of approach.
If he can get back in rhythm at the plate, he profiles as a big league regular backstop thanks to his outstanding defensive tools. He has a plus arm and moves well behind the plate with plus athleticism and agility as someone who runs well, especially for a catcher. The Rockies are excited to have him back healthy so he can continue to show he belongs in conversations about the best catching prospects in the game.
Romo just missed the top 100 list of Keith Law of the Athletic from earlier this month and was ranked sixth in the system:
Romo was the Rockies’ second pick in the 2020 draft, an elite defensive catcher for a high schooler who had big questions around his bat, but he’s hit extremely well in pro ball, to the point that he might end up a top-5 catcher in baseball at his peak. He has a short swing with good feel for the barrel, showing enough power to project to average when he fills out, maybe 12-18 homers a year.
He’s a superb receiver and framer who’s advanced already as a game-caller and has a plus arm, to the point where his glove will be major-league ready before his bat. He’s already enough of a contact hitter, even when young for his levels, with enough strength projection that I think he could end up a .300 hitter with double-digit homers and significant defensive value to boot.
Romo was universally seen as a plus defender with a plus arm and some power potential at the plate when he went No. 35 in the 2020 draft. He has been better than expected as a hitter, but his in-game power has been well below average and that will dictate if he’s a low-end regular or potential All-Star.
Romo didn’t make the Baseball Prospectus 101 last month, but he was fourth on their system ranking in November as a 55 OFP player. Based on the report, I don’t think BP factored in the hand issue in their evaluation:
Romo spent 2022 in High-A, fading badly in the second half and struggling to consistently impact the baseball. Now, he’s a prep catching prospect, so he’s going to have a slower burn than an infielder, and catching in the minors is a grind for anyone. While our Northwest League reports did note him wearing down late in summer, he only caught 57 games, and given his light usage behind the plate, it’s difficult to hand-wave that as merely a young catcher tiring at the end of a long season.
Romo’s glove still rates as well-above-average, garnering at least plus marks for both blocking and framing. At the plate, he makes good swing decisions, but a wide base cuts off much of his above-average raw power, and a contact-oriented stroke leaves him with exit velocities far off what you’d like at this point. There’s more to unlock at the plate, and the defense will likely get him to the majors one way or the other, but Romo’s 2022 is a reminder once again, that catching prospects are weird.
Romo is a prep catching prospect who struggled after a level jump. He hasn’t worked close to a standard 100-game workload behind the plate yet, and while you could project both offensive tools at average-or-better, there’s a lot of variance there as he moves up the ladder and spends more time decked out in the tools of ignorance.
BP’s John Trupin wrote up Romo in May before the hand injury and was more complimentary of the offense:
Defensively, Romo merits the flowers he’s received thus far. His movements behind the dish are fluid and instinctive, blocking well with his body when needed and his glove when possible.
Romo’s quick release appeared to hold an often steal-happy bunch in check. I expect Romo’s athleticism, instincts, and strong mechanical foundation will make him an above-average backstop as long as he suits up behind the dish.
At the plate thus far, Romo seems to be making the exact sorts of maturing progress the Rockies would hope for. Romo’s swing remains short and direct from both sides of the plate, and as he continues adding strength his above-average bat speed should help him produce greater power numbers. His swing decisions thus far this year and in my viewings have been above-average, including handling well a deceptive lefty in Adam Macko, as well as driving liners from the left side of the plate with consistency. Romo’s stance is wide, like he’s sitting astride a bull, and his short load step is geared to timing more than power gathering, but it’s made for high contact, high-contact quality swings thus far. The floor is high for Romo thanks to his glove, so any offensive competency will get him to the bigs and keep him there.
The riskiness of the profile tends to temper enthusiasm about Romo, but the defensive ability is so good and the floor for a MLB catcher that provides value is so low that I think a player with Romo’s defensive tools and offensive profile is a very likely big league regular with the ceiling of an All-Star switch-hitter. It’s a testament to the top-three of the system that I ranked a player with that profile only fourth on my ballot as a 55 FV player.
Romo has responded well so far two aggressive assignments by the Rockies and, provided he’s healthy in 2023, could be in the big leagues in just a couple years if this trajectory continues. He could spend some time back in High-A to start the year, but my guess is the Rockies will have him in Double-A most if not all of the season.