The Washington Nationals are not a ballclub that usually bets on players with off-the-field issues.
This year, they decided to take a leap of faith with first-round pick Seth Romero, and the left-handed pitcher has not paid dividends to this point
Romero was suspended twice during his tenure at Houston. First, he was suspended for “a lack of effort regarding conditioning” in 2016.
The following season, Romero was suspended for multiple offenses which “included failing a drug test due to marijuana use and appearing in a picture, in uniform, holding a bong.”
Romero’s stats speak to why the Nationals were willing to take such a risk on him. In 94 1/3 innings at Houston, Romero struck out 113 batters and held opponents to just a .186 average.
While we still don’t know what team policy Romero violated, one can only hope that he will return to the field soon. His talent would help this Nationals roster exponentially and it would be a shame to see all his talent wasted.
Romero did not violate any Major League Baseball rules. But the Nationals did not want to look the other way for a first-round pick, lest they indicate preferential treatment. While his violations were not, by some standards, egregious, they nevertheless impact the experience of other players in camp. As such, the Nationals chose to send him home indefinitely. The move is not unprecedented. The Nationals have sent several players home over the years, most notably former outfielder Steven Souza Jr., who overcame off-field habits to become an impact-making major leaguer and is now with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Nationals decision-makers still see Romero as a major league talent, a future left-handed relief stalwart who has the talent to be ready in the next few years. They also saw him as a project, at least off the field, and thus far the risk they took in drafting him has yielded only the results they hoped to avoid.
His development is crucial to their organizational pitching depth, as after trading away 20 or so pitchers in the last five years, they lack the big league ready depth they treasure. A.J. Cole, a former elite prospect who dropped from those ranks but slowly built himself into a big leaguer anyway, is currently in line to be their fifth starter. He allowed three runs on five hits in three innings in Tuesday’s 9-5 loss to the Houston Astros, battling his command and occasionally getting around his fastball, which would lose a few miles per hour and cut because of it. Cole has allowed five hits in five innings of work this spring, and is pitching to a 5.40 ERA. He also struck out Astros stars Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa twice each Tuesday, more evidence of the untrustworthy nature of early spring showings.