During the 2017-18 international signing period, the Pittsburgh Pirates signed six amateur players from Mexico. The first signing in July of 2017 broke a stretch of nearly four years without the Pirates signing a player from Mexico.
Part of the reason for the long time between signings was that teams in Mexico began asking higher prices for players. Major League Baseball put a hold on all signings out of the country last summer, as they try to work out a better way for the players to sign pro contracts. There was also fraud taking place, including Rene Gayo, who was fired by the Pittsburgh Pirates due to his involvement in a shady deal during the Luis Heredia signing.
Players in Mexico sign with summer and winter league teams in Mexico before they sign with a Major League team. Up until the current suspension of signings, those summer teams got as much as 75% of a player’s bonus. Scouts could also work for those summer teams and the Major League team that signed those players, which allowed them to get paid twice for the same player. That’s all being worked on now between MLB and the teams in Mexico.
When teams started asking higher prices, it made it more difficult for players in the country to sign, so most of them didn’t until they were 2-3 years older than the average international player signing out other countries. The six players signed by the Pirates in 2017-18 were 17, 18, 19, 19, 19 and 21. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as they were still playing pro ball at the time, and usually against a higher level of competition than what they would have faced in the Dominican or the Gulf Coast League.
The youngest player signed out of Mexico by the Pirates during the 2017-18 signing period was outfielder Randy Romero, who inked his deal on July 3rd, the day after the international signing period started. As of right now, he is the only one from that group of six players who hasn’t been to the United States yet, but that could change this spring.
Romero has played baseball for as long as he can remember. He said that he began playing when he was three years old and he probably swung a bat or threw a ball even earlier. He was a talented player growing up, which led to him signing at a young age with his summer team, Olmecas de Tabasco. Shortly after getting signed for a summer team, Romero was drafted by Venados de Mazatlan, a winter league club that has strong ties to the Pirates.
The Pirates, led by scout Jesus Valdez, had an interest in signing Romero right after he signed his winter deal, but they had to wait until the new international signing period started due to their small available bonus pool during the 2016-17 signing period. Shortly after he signed with the Pirates, Romero headed to the Dominican Republic for his first taste of pro ball.
When young international players sign deals with Major League teams during the start of the July 2nd signing period, they are almost always contracts for the following season. Those players actually get a lot of experience in pro ball before they play their first regular season game.
After signing, Romero headed to the Tricky League, which is basically a minor league version of the Dominican Summer League. It’s for players signed on July 2nd, along with some rehab players from the DSL mixed in. It gives them a chance to play without it counting towards their first year of pro ball, which would affect Rule 5 protection and minor league free agency down the line.
While Romero had pro experience in Mexico already, he considered the Tricky League, which ran until late August, to be a great first taste of pro baseball.
“Well, it was a new stage, a new face of baseball, it was a very good experience because I started to develop even more as a player,” Romero said about the Tricky League. “I met new challenges, new people, the competition, I really liked that.”
That was followed a few weeks later by the Dominican version of the Fall Instructional League. In the U.S., players are at Pirate City for four weeks during September and early October for instructs, where they play about 15-18 games total. In the Dominican, it starts a little later, lasts six weeks, and they play about 25 games. In the future, Romero will be able to play winter ball in Mexico. Right now, the level of play is too high for a young player with his experience.
After his time in the Dominican, Romero began training to get ready for the 2018 season. Spring Training in the Dominican begins in early April and lasts until the start of the DSL season, which is right around June 1st each year. That means that before we saw Romero’s name in the boxscore for the first time on June 5, 2018, he already spent six months at the Dominican academy, where they played more games total than the 72-game DSL schedule.
What we see on paper is less than half of Romero’s pro experience at this point. He attended the Instructional League again this past fall in the Dominican back in October and November, so you’re talking about 100 team games or so since he signed that go unnoticed by fans. Since there are no stats available from all of his other games in the Dominican, all we have to rely on at this point are the DSL numbers.
Romero hit .253/.326/.333 in 53 games for the DSL Pirates, with seven doubles, two triples, a homer, and he went 12-for-16 in stolen bases. He played all three outfield spots and took some turns at first base to get him into the lineup more often. At 5’11”, with a slight frame (see a photo from October just below) and above average speed, plus a strong arm, it’s unlikely that first base is in his future.
(Photo Credit: Juan Berson)
Romero said that he feels most comfortable in center field, but that’s a spot where teams usually spend a lot of money on international signings, so lesser bonus players will get pushed to corner spots. Romero’s main position during the summer was left field, where he played 34 games. During instructs this fall, he continued to play mostly in left field. It’s a bit interesting to note with the Pirates playing him regularly in left field and Romero liking center field, that he picked up five outfield assists in just ten games as a right fielder this summer.
The book on Romero is that he is an athletic player, who does a little bit of everything on the field. He’s a center fielder with speed, who doesn’t strikeout often and plays the game smart, rarely making bad decisions. That last part is somewhat rare with young players, who want to show off tools to help them stand out in the crowd (with approximately 1,500 players in the league, the DSL is quite the crowd). Romero should add some power as he fills out (he’s gone from 155 pounds to 164 since signing), though I wouldn’t expect that to be a big part of his game.
Romero considers his first full year of pro ball to be a great learning experience. One of the things said about him is that he is a quick learner and it shows when I asked him to sum up his entire pro experience up to this point.
“I have grown a lot as a player,” Romero said. “My way of playing has improved a lot and I understand more how to play.”
(Photo Credit: Juan Berson)
Romero gets lost among the 2017-18 international signing group because the Pirates signed 74 players total and he wasn’t one of the top bonus players. He even gets lost in the group from Mexico because the three 19-year-old players had much better track records before signing with the Pirates. Fabricio Macias was possibly the best available amateur free agent in Mexico when he signed last February. Fernando Villegas was known as a strong hitter already after he batted .333 with 25 doubles in 52 games as a 17-year-old in the Mexican league version of the minors. Lefty pitcher Denny Roman was throwing 94 MPH and striking out everyone in the DSL before he was pushed to Bristol mid-season. All three drew attention, while the younger Romero plugged away with solid numbers in the pitcher-friendly DSL.
Romero is hoping to get a shot to move to the U.S. during Spring Training this year. He’s putting in the off-season work to help make that happen. He has rather simple goals for the rest of the off-season and the upcoming year.
“I keep working to get better, grow as a player and give more of what the Pirates expect.”
John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.
When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.