DENVER -- In making his rounds evaluating Rockies Minor League prospects last summer, player development director Chris Forbes checked into an extended-stay hotel in Fresno, Calif.
Forbes bumped into another resident, Drew Romo, a 2020 supplemental first-round pick (35th overall) who spent ‘21 as Class A Fresno’s catcher.
“He was telling me, ‘Hey, don’t make any noise or I’ll call the front desk,’” Forbes said. “He calls the front desk on people. He’s like [former Rockies, current Cardinals third baseman] Nolan Arenado. Nine o’clock, lights are out. TV is off.”
Romo, who turned 20 on Aug. 29 and finished the season ranked No. 8 among Rockies prospects by MLB Pipeline, may be a party-pooper around the hotel, but he has proven a live wire where it counts. In his first pro season, Romo batted .314 with six home runs, 17 doubles and 47 RBIs while helping Fresno to the Low-A West playoffs and earning all-league honors. He also earned high marks for studiousness and in-game strategy with pitchers.
And when it came to filtering out the noise -- not only from the occasional hotel neighbor, but from the attention that comes with being a first-round pick -- Romo did it all with a smile.
“I think I did a good job of just taking the pressure off myself, playing loose, trying to have fun and enjoying the game,” Romo said after the season ended, while spending a few days in the Rockies’ instructional program in Scottsdale, Ariz. “I would just constantly tell myself it’s my first season, there’s no pressure. I was just having fun with my team.”
Because Romo had more fun with the bat than experts expected, the prospect rankings are likely to smile brighter upon him. It’s a little soon for Romo to crack the MLB Pipeline Top 100, but continued strong two-way production at a difficult position should earn him accolades.
Romo earned such high marks for his defense, at The Woodlands High School in suburban Houston and with the Team USA national program, that he was somewhat typecast.
“Leading up to the Draft, a lot of people overlooked my hitting because of my defense,” said Romo, who used the 2020 Minor League shutdown to simplify his hitting approach. “Being able to consistently produce for my team on both sides of the ball was something that I was proud of.”
There is still work to do. A switch-hitter, Romo hit much better from the left against right-handers (.351/.384/.484) than from the right against lefties (.218/.236/.332), although some of that was more opportunities from the left (250 plate appearances) than the right (89).
“The word coming in from a lot of people in the game was he was more of a defensive guy, which is fine,” said Darin Everson, the Rockies’ hitting coordinator. “But I’m telling you, from the first day on the field, how he carried himself, he was on fire to be a good hitter. He wanted to be that guy, all the time.
“What he did a nice job of was figuring out how to barrel the ball up as much as he could. He’s a line-drive hitter who is able to pop some balls out of the ballpark. And no matter what was going on offensively, he was able to flip the switch and be an impactful catcher.”
Forbes was taken with Romo’s meticulous approach to defense. Last spring, the Rockies wanted Romo to ease into receiving work after not having a season in ’20, but Romo refused.
“He wanted to catch a guy, go to the next guy -- he wanted to really learn all the pitchers,” Forbes said.
The work paid off during a June 2 game against Visalia, when Romo’s knowledge of Fresno lefty Brieling Eusebio produced results far better -- six scoreless innings -- than his stuff would have indicated.
“I listened to the game plan going into that,” Forbes said. “He didn’t have his curveball that day, and that was a heavy part of the game plan against the team we were playing that day. So I watched Drew start changing the game plan, and he navigated a guy that had just a fastball and changeup through six innings.”
It was the kind of catching that makes the Rockies sleep easier when they think of Romo.