Nearly a year to the day after the Washington Nationals drafted Seth Romero in the first round of the 2017 MLB draft, the Nationals allowed their enigmatic left-hander to return to one of their professional rosters. After being sent home from spring training in March, Romero has been assigned and reported to Class A Hagerstown, according to people familiar with his situation. He has not pitched for a Nationals affiliate since last season, which he finished at short-season A ball in Auburn, N.Y.
The Nationals drafted Romero 25th overall a month or so after he was dismissed from the team at the University of Houston because of a variety of offenses that reportedly included failed drug tests and fighting with teammates. Most considered Romero a top 10 talent, but he fell because of concerns about his off-field character.
He justified those concerns this spring when he violated curfew multiple times, according to people familiar with the situation, who said top Nationals officials told him, point blank, what would happen if he continued to ignore the rules. He did, and they kept their promise, sending him home from spring training with a to-do list he had to complete before returning.
Apparently, Romero has completed that list, and will now resume pitching in official games. At the time they drafted the hard-throwing lefty, some Nationals evaluators believed his stuff was already big league ready. In other words, if the off-field issues end, Romero could move through the system quickly. But his off-field troubles have never yielded for long.
Romero is represented by agent Scott Boras, who has also had sit-downs with his client about respecting the rules. At 22 years old, he is still young, though another lost year could substantially slow his development. Romero struck out 35 batters in 22 innings between the Gulf Coast Nationals and Auburn Doubledays last season.
The lefty was the most vaunted member of a pitching-heavy draft class intended to restock the Nationals’ organizational pitching depth after trades depleted it over the last few years. Second-round pick Wil Crowe, a less flashy, more polished college product, has progressed nicely and is now pitching to a 2.63 ERA for Class A Potomac.
The Nationals used this year’s draft to stockpile pitching, too. They used their first-round pick on a high school righty, Mason Denaburg, who many thought would slide into a Friday night starter’s role at a power conference had he not signed to play professionally. After Denaburg, the Nationals loaded up on big-bodied college pitchers with power potential.
But after Erick Fedde, Romero is probably the Nationals’ most high-profile starting pitching prospect, a player on whom they will rely to justify that first-round pick. Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo has never taken a player in the first round who didn’t eventually make the major leagues. He and his staff hope Romero has learned his lesson well enough that off-field issues will not force him to become the first.
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