MINNEAPOLIS -- Hard-throwing right-hander Fernando Romero made it 15 2/3 innings into his Major League career without allowing a run last May. While the 24-year-old has primarily been a starter throughout his professional career, could he ultimately prove a better fit for the Twins' bullpen in 2019?
Either way, Romero looks to be a major part of the future for the Twins on the mound. As he enters 2019 with 11 Major League starts under his belt, his usage this Spring Training should begin to shed more light on the Twins' plans for their former No. 4 prospect.
"He has the kind of ability that makes you think, 'Well, this guy can start,'" manager Rocco Baldelli said last month. "And then you look at it other days and you think, 'Well, this guy could step in right now and be a really good reliever for us.' He has a lot of ability. We're going to have to find where that best fits.
"As I sit here, right now, I could not tell you exactly where I think he fits. I'd love to lay eyes on him first and then get a feel for it."
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While Romero told the Minneapolis Star Tribune at TwinsFest last month that he hadn't heard about the Twins' plans to potentially use him as a reliever yet, the front office has long had internal conversations regarding the matter.
Looking at Romero's repertoire, it's easy to see why his stuff could play well out of the bullpen. His fastball -- which averaged 95.5 mph in the Majors last season -- has been his premier weapon, and he also averaged 86.7 mph on his slider, with a 36.6 percent whiff rate. Letting him throw harder in shorter stints with that fastball-slider mix could certainly play well in the late innings of a game.
But if he continues to develop his changeup as a third pitch, his pitch mix could make him an effective starter in the long term -- and his Minor League track record supports that idea. Upon his return from Tommy John surgery in 2016, Romero posted a 1.89 ERA in 16 starts. He has a 3.53 ERA in 24 Double-A games (23 starts) and 3.57 ERA in 16 Triple-A games (13 starts). He has struck out 8.3 batters per nine innings in the Minors.
As the Twins enter Spring Training, there appears to be a more pressing need in their relief corps, with several arms -- including Martin Pérez, Romero, Kohl Stewart, Stephen Gonsalves, Adalberto Mejía and Zack Littell -- all vying to be the fifth starter. But the Twins still haven't named a closer, and even with the offseason signing of Blake Parker, there's still room for a converted young starter to prove himself.
But the Twins are hesitant to pencil potentially flexible arms like Romero and Stewart into one role too soon, as their destinies might ultimately be dictated by how injuries impact the roster situation throughout camp.
"Our view of camp ... [is] we don't know exactly what our team's going to look like on Opening Day," said chief baseball officer Derek Falvey. "The reality is that we have injuries -- hopefully fewer than last year. But the reality is that we have injuries and we have some struggles, and we're going to have to find ways to get those guys to step up."
Could Romero even work his way into the open closer's role? It's not out of the realm of possibility, especially since Twins leadership believes the young right-hander has the competitive mentality to thrive under pressure.
"I think he has a thirst for competition. It seems to be insatiable," general manager Thad Levine said during this offseason's Winter Meetings. "I think he's one of those guys who goes on the mound ... toes the rubber and thinks he's about five inches taller than he is -- and is prepared to do battle with anybody who's in the box."