Draft prospect Romero emerges as JUCO ace

Draft prospect Romero emerges as JUCO ace

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. -- JoJo Romero isn't pondering the exciting certitude of becoming a pro prospect. At least not yet.

The 6-foot sophomore southpaw at Yavapai College (Ariz.) is competing at the Junior College World Series, and his team has advanced to the title game, where he'll start what will likely be the final amateur game of his career.

"Next week, when we go back home, that's when you get to sit down with your family and start embracing it and taking it all in," Romero told MLB.com of next week's MLB Draft. "Then Thursday, Friday, Saturday, just see what comes my way and go from there."

Romero is not expected to re-sign with a Division I school -- he spent last year with Nevada -- and on Thursday was unveiled at No. 124 on MLB Pipeline's Top 200 Draft prospects.

Durability has been the concern that litters his scouting report, but the 20-year-old Romero has defied that stigma in what has been a transitional year in many ways, going from Division I reliever to JUCO ace. Romero has catapulted from being a raw arm in Nevada's bullpen into a top-of-the-rotation starter, logging an innings uptick by 73 2/3 frames.

2016 Draft: JoJo Romero, LHP

"He's up over 100 innings. He's up over 100 strikeouts. His strike percentage is pushing 65 [percent], so I think the durability factor comes from the stereotype of not being 6-foot-4," Yavapai head coach Ryan Cougill said. "But he does this: He takes care of his body. He knows he's got a future ahead of him and he's very disciplined in his approach with his what we call 'prehab' -- his preparation for his arm care."

Romero has taken a significant leap since transferring last fall. Now as a starter, he's naturally needed to ripen a diverse portfolio of pitches to keep batters honest throughout a lengthier course.

His two-seam fastball has a sharp sink and his four-seamer has hit the low-90s in Colorado this week. He also brought a curve with him to Yavapai, but he's added a changeup and slider to his repertoire that in just a short span have become his best pitches.

"I worked on [the slider] a little bit in the fall and once the season came along, like with my changeup -- mid-season -- I kind of started throwing that slider, and that's kind of been one of my best out pitches, too, as well with the changeup," Romero said. "They all just started coming along, and like I said with that changeup, it helps everything else be effective."

Cougill believes the diversity Romero has developed -- particularly as a lefty -- will make him a coveted Draft target. When told Romero was ranked No. 124 out of 200 by MLB Pipeline, Cougill said: "I would say he's pretty deserving of that. If there's 10 arms from the left side better than him, I would like to see them because he's pretty good."

"His changeup is pro-ready. It's a plus-pitch," Cougill continued. "But I would imagine [pro teams] will get him in between the curveball and slider. I just don't know if you need both pitches in the big leagues and sometimes they'll get stuck in between the two."

What Cougill found most admirable about Romero is his immediate initiative to take the reins of the rotation -- and all that comes with it, including mentorship. Along with pitching coach Jerry Dawson, Romero has utilized his stint at Yavapai to share knowledge in a similar capacity to upperclassmen at Nevada when he was a freshman at Nevada.

Romero transferred last year looking for a better fit. After an overhaul to the Nevada coaching staff, Romero, along with teammate Jeddidiah Fagg, left for the respected Yavapai, which has fielded 15 Major Leaguers, including Curt Schilling, Kirby Yates, Ken Giles and Kole Calhoun.

"I think he's brought an attitude to the pitching staff more than anything," Cougill said. "He's probably an undersized guy, uses that to his advantage with his mindset. But it's different learning from a player than it is learning from a coach. He's been a mindset-setter -- he helps guys set mindsets and make adjustments."

Romero has already toed the rubber in two of Yavapai's five games this week at the JUCO World Series. One of those was one inning of relief in a four-hour, 15-14 win over Cisco that was played in regulation.

He'll start on Saturday against Friday's San Jacinto (Texas)-Chattahoochee Valley (Ala.) victor out of the winner's bracket. Chattahoochee Valley withstood elimination against then-undefeated San Jacinto, winning, 13-3, which forced the extra game and allowed Romero an extra day's rest.

The Draft is a mere week away. But first, there's a game, which is certainly the most monumental of his incredibly young career.

Daniel Kramer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.