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Who Will Be The Next Sergio Romo?

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I hope the answer to that question in 2012 and several years beyond is "Sergio Romo." I do not want anyone else to be Sergio Romo. Baseball players are like snowflakes: sweaty, spittle-flecked, tattooed snowflakes. Don't give me your cold, calculating claptrap about fungible middle relievers. These are people, not widgets or thingamabobs or, uh, other widget-like replacement parts!

Then again, Felix Rodriguez was suspiciously animatronic in his refusal to throw all but one pitch, a 95 MPH fastball, which was plenty fine for a short while (though not on this night). Peruse here at your leisure, then come back. Fifi had two of the darndest years you'll ever see from a reliever in 2000 and 2001. He and Robb Nen were a knockout one-two, or perhaps more accurately, eight-nine punch at the end of the game. Then he wasn't the same post-2001, was traded for Ricky Ledee (ouch) in 2004, and was out of the majors by 2006.

Not fungible, but how about: Middle relievers: Enjoy 'em while you got 'em. Which brings us back to Sergio Romo. We love Sergio Romo, and we hope he inspires mind-blowing hyperbole til he's old and gray, but he's got one of those things called an elbow. He happens to twist it in salt-water-taffy fashion whenever he throws a slider, which is roughly all the time. And sometimes his elbow complains, as it has recently in Arizona. Romo will be OK, most likely, when the season starts, and both he and the Giants say they are much better these days at reading the signs of early distress. He'll never be an 80-inning-a-year guy, which could actually give him a better chance of throwing frisbee sliders until he's 40, and not go the way of Fifi or, say, Jim Brower, whose arm Felipe Alou turned into a soggy half-chewed Buffalo wing in 2004.  

I won't dwell on the end of Romo's magic carpet ride, his projected shelf life or any other such morbid humdrum. Instead, I wonder who could repeat the formula: unheralded to start (Romo was a 28th round pick out of Division II Mesa State College in Grand Junction, Colorado); purveyor of nice K rates in the low minors, combined with low walk rates and a certain hard-to-hit-ness, but it wasn't until his third pro year that he served up any hint of what he might produce in the majors:

YearAgeTmLevERAGGSGFIPHHRBBIBBSOWHIPH/9HR/9BB/9SO/9SO/BB
200522Salem-KeizerA-2.751514068.270791651.1509.20.91.28.57.22
200623AugustaA2.53311010103.1789191950.9396.80.81.78.35.00
200724San JoseA+1.364102766.13541511060.7544.70.52.014.47.07
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/21/2012.

The lesson: Do magical things in the California League, and someday you will repeat them in front of 40,000 people. Twenty-four year old relief pitchers put up gaudy numbers in High-A ball all the time (that's an educated guess), but not like that. And not with 89 MPH fastballs. Three years in as a pro, Romo was no longer unheralded among the cognoscenti. The next year, he was a big leaguer.

So who's under the radar now? I don't think Heath Hembree qualifies, not with every local pundit tabbing him as Brian Wilson's successor and national prospect watchers betting on a 2012 big league debut. (Sixteen Ks per nine innings, even in a half-season at High A as a 22-year-old, will have that effect.)

How about David Quinowski? He's turning 26 soon, on the old side for a guy who's never cracked Triple-A, but he lost a year to injury. He's also had high K rates and low hit rates through the minors but hasn't been as stingy with the walks as you'd like to see. And his 2011 season, a repeat at AA, was uninspiring, at least on paper.

Danny Otero, recently added to the 40-man roster, has good strikeout and stunning walk numbers, but doesn't seem inordinately hard to hit. His own coach in 2008 said he had "pretty decent stuff" but no above-average pitch, which probably hasn't changed four years and a Tommy John surgery later. Last year Otero called himself a "middle guy" -- as in middle relief.

One guy I've noted a couple times is Hector Correa, partly because I love tracking prospects who come over in trades for end-of-the-road veterans. Call it the Darren Ford Fascination. Get anything out of these guys at the major-league level, like, say, a mad dash around the bases to beat Ubaldo Jimenez in a September pennant race game, or a madder dash around the bases to win an extra-inning game...



...and it's a great trade. Correa was the end result of the Jack "Just the facts ma'am" Taschner for Ronny Paulino swap, with Paulino immediately flipped to the Marlins for Correa, who at the time, if I remember correctly, was recovering from arm surgery. Weird move, but it won't be if Correa does one little thing to help the Giants win a regular-season game. I bet he will. As he's climbed the farm ladder post-injury, his K rates haven't been nuts, but look at his hits allowed last year:

YearAgeTmLgERAGIPHHRBBSOWHIPH/9HR/9BB/9SO/9
201022AugustaSALL4.123243.239316581.2608.00.63.312.0
2011232 Teams2 Lgs2.554381.153724690.9475.90.82.77.6
201123San JoseCALL1.932042.020412370.7624.30.92.67.9
201123RichmondEL3.202339.133312321.1447.60.72.77.3
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/22/2012.

That's two hits every three innings, often working more than an inning per game. So he's not just coming in for a batter or an inning and throwing as hard as he can. I am intrigued.

Bullpen reinforcements are a big part of a pennant push. Brian Sabean engineered a coup in 2010 with trades for Ramon Ramirez and Javier Lopez, although no one recognized it at the time. The secret strength of this year's Diamondbacks could be their Triple-A pitching, just waiting to take rotation or bullpen spots. If the Giants' bullpen is to hold the inevitable slim leads the rest of the team hands them, it won't hurt to have Sergio Romo and the next two Sergio Romos in reserve.


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