Drew Rom put on a strikeout clinic in his senior year at Highlands High School in Fort Thomas, Kentucky, punching out 116 in 60 innings, nearly two batters per inning. Later that summer, the young left-hander was drafted by the Orioles in the fourth round of the 2018 MLB draft.
According to MLB Pipeline, Rom was enticed to forego pitching at Michigan in part because of a $650,000 signing bonus, which is $166,700 above the suggested $483,000 value for the 115th overall selection.
At the start of the 2019 season, MLB Pipeline ranked Rom as the Orioles’ 29th best prospect. After a strong year with Single-A Delmarva, he has moved up to 19th place on that particular list. Fangraphs slots Rom in as the O’s 24th best prospect.
After signing on June 22, 2018, Rom joined the Gulf Coast League Orioles four days later. He appeared in 10 games 2018, including nine starts, compiling a 1.76 ERA, 0.85 WHIP and 4.67 SO/W while allowing only one home run in 30.2 total innings.
The young left-hander was promoted to the Shorebirds in the South Atlantic League this year and he had another strong campaign. In 15 games started, covering 72.1 innings, Rom went 4-2 with a 3.24 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and 3.46 SO/W. In six appearances out of the bullpen (23 innings), he went 2-1 with a 1.96 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 4.57 SO/W.
Between the Delmarva bullpen and rotation, including 21 games total, Rom had a 2.93 ERA and 1.22 WHIP. While his strikeout rate increased from 8.2 per nine innings last year to 11.5 this year, his walk rate went up too, from 1.8 per nine to 3.1. He was still able to limit the home runs, though, averaging only 0.5 per nine innings.
It’s interesting to see how the O’s used Rom in Delmarva this past season in terms of starting and relieving. While the majority of his appearances were starts, there were random games mixed in throughout the season where he would come out of the bullpen, but still pitch a decent chunk of the game. In fact, his shortest relief outing was three innings on July 25, while most of his relief appearances clocked in around four innings.
If the Orioles were trying to limit his innings in his first full professional season, it’s safe to assume they would have used him out of the bullpen at the end of Delmarva’s schedule. But his last four appearances were of the starting variety.
On the 20-80 scouting scale, MLB Pipeline ranked Rom with the following pitch grades: fastball, 50; slider, 55; changeup, 50; control, 45; overall, 45.
Fangraphs’ prospect report has slightly different values for him: fastball, 40/50; slider, 45/50; splitter, 45/55; command 40/55; future value, 40. You’ll also notice that Fangraphs includes a splitter grade and no changeup, while Pipeline lists a changeup grade but no splitter.
While Rom’s fastball currently sits in the high-80’s, low-90’s range, he’s carrying only 170 pounds on his 6 foot 2 frame. If he fills out a bit like people expect, he could potentially add a mile or two per hour to his fastball.
Fangraphs lists Rom’s major league ETA as 2023, which makes sense considering he was drafted right out of high school at 18 years old and doesn’t have the polish that older draftees possess. It also gives him time to build up some innings and add on some mass in hopes of building up endurance and arm strength.
It’s a lot to assume that Rom is going to pack on something like 15-20 pounds of muscle, so it will be interesting to monitor his stamina as a starter as his professional career continues.
If he’s going to stay in the rotation, he will have to prove that he can pitch past the middle innings and show the required endurance to do so. If not, his future may be in the bullpen. The Orioles seem to be at least flirting with the reliever idea already, based off his usage at Delmarva. But at this point, he still seems to project as a major league starter if all goes well.
While Rom has posted strong strikeout to walk rates in his first two years of minor league ball, that figure dropped a bit from year one to year two while his walk rate jumped. That will be a key area to watch moving forward; whether Rom can maintain his control on the mound or if it gets worse.
If the young lefty continues his steady climb through the system, it’s reasonable to expect him to advance one level per year, on average. That means high Single-A next year probably, Double-A in 2021, and Triple-A in 2022. With a little luck, maybe O’s fan could see the lefty in Baltimore sometime in 2022. But going conservative, 2023 is more likely.
Statistics courtesy of MLB, MiLB, Fangraphs and Baseball Reference.