Romo emerges as Rockies catcher of the future after travel ball beginnings

August 24, 2023

It would likely be impossible to pin down what the greatest travel ball team of all time might be.

If one were to try to do that, however, you wouldn’t be looking at rings that haven’t seen the light of day in years and have long since been forgotten, or even trophies and banners. Your focus would, most certainly, be on development.

So, with those criteria? The 2020 grad class Scorpions would at least be on the list.

The roster was deep, with players who all ultimately made a name for themselves like Michael Brooks, C.J. Kayfus, Jackson Nezuh, Brandon Neely, Jack O’Dowd and others not even serving as the main attractions. The ones that scouts were really coming out to see?

Zac Veen.

Dylan Crews.

Drew Romo.

Three future first-rounders, all in the same lineup.

“I knew Crews at the time,” Romo said in an interview on Wednesday. “Me and him, we’d been close for a long time, so I knew he was special. But Veen, that was my first time meeting and playing with him, so I didn’t realize how special he was at that time. So, no, at the moment, I didn’t realize how special that team was. But, looking back, that was pretty crazy having me, Veen and Crews on the same travel team and a lot of really good other players too.”

All three were dominant in the 2019 New Balance Baseball Future Stars Series National Tournaments, an event that incredibly enough, the Scorpions didn’t win, with the Louisiana Knights ultimately came out on top of. Regardless, the trio were among a group of players on the team invited to International Week, which was held for the first time at Fenway Park that year. Crews and Veen were able to attend — as were Brooks and Nezuh — but Romo couldn’t make it due to another commitment.

Ultimately, that showing at the National Tournaments would be the last we’d see of Romo, but certainly not the last the baseball world would hear from him; he was taken with the No. 35 overall pick by the Colorado Rockies back in 2020, 26 picks after Veen, who Colorado also scooped up. The two had been teammates with the Double-A Hartford Yard Goats, now co-hosts of the Main Event at Dunkin Donuts Park, this year, before an injury prematurely ended Veen’s season.

“I remember right after the Draft, I called him, and I was like, ‘Dude, I got picked by the Rockies, we’re going to be playing together,'” Romo recalls. “That was really cool, just getting to play with him. There’s not many guys who get picked out of high school, so I feel like the people in our organization who were drafted out of high school kind of gravitate towards each other; me, Veen, Case Williams. Especially be in the same Draft with each other out of high school, you get close.”

Romo, who was an LSU commit, says he didn’t necessarily feel the pressure to perform right away that came with getting drafted out of high school, but did want to establish right away that his reputation as a glove-first catcher wasn’t entirely earned.

“I guess I feel a little more pressure defensively, because coming out of the Draft, I was given that label as a defensive catcher with not much upside offensively,” he said. “So, that took all the pressure off me offensively. I’d go out there and hit and tell myself I’ve got nothing to lose, right? I’m a defensive catcher, so they say, so there’s nothing I can do except exceed expectations. I think I’ve shown a lot of success at the plate, a lot of potential. But defensively, I think my defense hasn’t been as good as it should be. I see myself as a Gold Glove-caliber catcher, and I think right now, I’m not there yet, so I still have a lot of learning and development to do.”

As much as Romo is considered to be one of the game’s better defenders behind the plate, he says a “glove-first” label didn’t necessarily bother him. He’s just happy he’s been able to prove he isn’t “glove-only.”

“I always knew I could hit,” he said. “My family knew I could hit. I’ve proven to myself that I could do it. So, I guess it did kind of upset me a little bit, but it ended up helping me and taking that pressure off me.”

Still only 21 years old, the switch-hitting backstop has moved quickly through Colorado’s system, moving up a level per year starting with his pro debut in 2021, which has him in Hartford now. This year, he’s hitting .242, but has already established a new career-high with nine home runs, and is one shy of tying the mark he set last year in Spokane with 29 extra-base hits.

Having also thrown out 22 percent of attempted basestealers this year with the Yard Goats, and there’s plenty of reason for optimism that the Fountain Valley, Cali. native is on the fast track to get to the big leagues over the next year or two.

“For me, this has been my favorite season in terms of just playing baseball,” he said.

“This is the most healthy season that I’ve had, and this is my third year playing with some of these guys, and I’ve gotten really close with a lot of them. My relationships have gotten a lot better, and I’m having maybe the most fun I’ve ever had playing baseball and really enjoying it. And (the Eastern League) is great; great facilities, great stadiums, great fans. So, in that sense, it’s maybe my favorite season ever. In terms of my numbers, they haven’t been as good as I would like them to be, but some of them have been better; this year, I have the most homers I’ve ever had in a season, so I’m tapping into some power, which is great. My caught-stealing percentage behind the plate is higher this year than it was last year, so I’m improving in that area, and I’m starting to walk a little bit more. In those areas, I’m getting better, but other than that, my numbers aren’t as good as I’d like them to be, but I think that’s going to fuel me going into the future and it’s going to help me learn. This off-season, it’s going to help me to work hard, be motivated and be disciplined.”

Mike Ashmore
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