Stefen Romero gaining traction with Mariners in the outfield
Stefen Romero found his sport in baseball thanks to a twist of fate. Now, he’s trying to find his spot on the Mariners roster as one of the team’s outfielders.
Seattle Times staff reporter
PEORIA, Ariz. — When Stefen Romero was 5 years old, a little twist of fate steered him initially to baseball.
“My mom was going to sign me up for flag football and we actually missed the deadline,’’ he said. “She said, ‘Well, baseball season is almost at the same time.’ So she signed me up for that instead.’’
Romero never did play football after becoming an immediate, well, hit on the diamond, good enough to later land a scholarship at Oregon State.
There, another unexpected turn — one that at first seemed potentially ominous — helped lead him to the Seattle Mariners.
A couple of weeks before the 2010 Major League draft, Romero suffered a broken bone in his elbow diving back to first base in a game against Arizona State.
Romero was pegged by many analysts as likely to go somewhere in the middle-to-latter part of the first 10 rounds. But with many teams suddenly a little leery due to his injury — he was then playing primarily third base — he fell to the 12th round, where the Mariners took him with the 372nd pick overall.
Romero says he’ll never know for sure if the injury caused his stock to fall, though he says at the time he wondered “am I even going to get drafted? Once I got drafted, a huge burden was lifted, definitely.’’
And now, Romero is right where he hoped he would always be, fighting for a spot on a major-league roster.
The 25-year-old is one of seven outfielders left in Seattle’s major-league camp after the team sent James Jones and Xavier Avery to Tacoma on Friday as it pared its roster to 40.
Dustin Ackley, Abraham Almonte, Corey Hart and Michael Saunders will likely fill four of the spots, but nothing is certain, and even assuming those four make it would leave a spot for one more (others in camp are non-roster invitees Endy Chavez and Cole Gillespie).
“He’s certainly in the mix,’’ manager Lloyd McClendon said Saturday of Romero. “I think we all know our need and desire for right-handed bats throughout the lineup.’’
Romero’s played that role well of late, with nine hits in his last 19 at-bats with two doubles, two triples and two home runs — one coming Friday night against Colorado. The surge followed an 0-16 start and came as Romero began to get more acclimated to his surroundings in his second year in a major-league camp (he had 14 at-bats in spring training with Seattle in 2013).
The team is also watching closely to see how he plays in the outfield, the position the team transitioned him to following the 2012 season.
Romero said it took him only a couple of months to recover from the elbow injury well enough to play. But due in part to concerns over whether the injury had affected his arm strength, the Mariners moved him to second base in 2011, where he also played in 2012 when he was named the team’s Minor League Player of the Year, hitting a combined .352 at Class A and Class AA.
Last year, he moved back to third and the outfield, which would give more options to get his bat in the lineup, hitting. 277 with 11 home runs at Tacoma.
McClendon isn’t shy about expressing the need to improve the team’s defense in the outfield. McClendon, though, said Romero has impressed there, too, including a catch at the wall against the Rockies Friday night.
“It’s been pretty easy (making the switch), going to Tacoma last year and playing the entire year there,’’ Romero said. “I feel much more comfortable and feel more sufficient in the work (in the outfield).’’
What he isn’t feeling is stress over whether he makes the team’s opening-day roster. It wasn’t that long ago he had to go to play at Pima Community College in Tucson when he had no four-year offers before eventually earning a scholarship from Oregon State, where he was an all-conference pick his last season in 2010.
“Fortunately I’ve been getting a lot of playing time, a lot of at-bats, to show what I’m capable of,’’ he said. “Whatever happens is out of my control.’’
• Seattle lost a wild 13-6 game to the Giants in Peoria, in which gusty winds and a hard field helped lead to a combined 27 hits and six errors.
It also featured a relative rarity for a spring-training game, the ejection of Seattle closer Fernando Rodney, who came on to pitch the fifth inning after starter James Paxton allowed two earned runs on six hits.
Rodney had hit a batter and allowed two hits when he thought an 0-1 pitch to Tyler Colvin should have been called a strike, and said as much to umpire Adam Hamari.
Rodney said he merely said that the pitch was a strike, and when the umpire said “that’s enough’’ that he repeated “that’s a strike.’’ Told it seemed like a quick hook, Rodney replied that’s “because he knows he’s wrong. It was a strike. It was right down the middle.’’
Rodney headed to home plate to continue the discussion after being ejected before being escorted off the field by teammate and catcher Mike Zunino.
Asked afterward what he thought happened, McClendon said: “I’m still not sure. He (Rodney) said it was a strike, umpire said it wasn’t. He said ‘yeah it was’ and the ump threw him out.’’
McClendon also thought it was a pretty quick ejection, saying, “I didn’t think that was necessary and I told him that.’’