Perhaps the fact that many underestimated him is one of the things that drives Stefen Romero. Overlooked until the 12th round of the 2010 draft coming off of an injury, the Oregon State product had hit well and played well at third base when healthy and had a drive and focus that made him one of the leaders on those very good Beaver teams. But he was still available when the Mariners selected at 372 overall, and they pounced on him in what looks like a huge steal just a few years later.
SeattleClubhouse's Rick Randall caught up with Romero before the Generals started their playoff series and talked with him about what he learned from that injury, about getting back into the swing of the game following the injury and about building his baseball library.
SeattleClubhouse: Thanks a lot for agreeing to talk with me today before the playoffs start, Stefen.
Stefen Romero: No problem Rick.
SC: The question I get most about Stefen Romero is, “how in the world did this guy slip to the 12th round in the draft?” The reason, of course, was because you broke your elbow or forearm in late May of 2010. What did that injury teach you about yourself and about baseball?
SR: First of all, I wasn't that highly recruited out of high school and I went to junior college right out of high school. Then Oregon State was actually the only University that offered me a scholarship, so I am still very thankful to everyone on the coaching staff at Oregon State for giving me that opportunity. As for the injury, it was a Quarter Regional game at Arizona State and I fractured my elbow during the game. That was two weeks before the draft and I was getting a lot of attention from scouts at that time so that altered what my expectations for the draft were 180 degrees. It was adversity. I was hearing between the fourth and tenth round at that time -- a lot of stuff around the draft is politics, so I can't really tell where I would've gone if I hadn't been injured, maybe it would've been the same round -- but the injury changed things and it made me reconsider myself and who I was as a baseball player.
I was a bigger guy at that time; I was 225 or 230 pounds, so I was limited to third base or first base for most of my career at Oregon State. After the injury I had to reflect about what kind of baseball player I wanted to be; did I want to limit myself to third and first and try and just hit for power or what. Then after the draft and after I got healthy I went to instructs, met a lot of new coaches and was getting professional instruction. And the coaches had a different perspective and a different focus. In college, so much of what they teach you and what they focus on is just the winning and getting to a College World Series. But the professional coaches are much more focused on the individual player and what ways you can advance your career. They want you to win, but they teach you to take your career into your own hands to excel. So going into my first Spring Training I lost about 10 to 15 pounds, just shed body fat and get in better shape so that I could be more versatile.
SC: So the injury was really a chance for you to take a step back and figure out what you could do to become even better then.
SR: Yeah. So when I headed to Clinton after my first Spring Training last year I was about 215 and felt more versatile. Since that was my first full season, I didn't really know what to expect out of pro ball. I'd been in contact with a few guys and they just said, "It's a grind. As the season progresses, you're going to find that your bat speed isn't there, you're going to have to switch bats," because of playing every day. So last year was a big learning experience. And playing in Clinton, the weather was cold at the start of the year so that was a challenge.
Then going into this season, I wanted to be in the best shape possible and work hard on that aspect again so that I had more opportunities -- at second base, at third base, in the outfield -- just by changing my body once again. That's really been my focus the past few seasons since the injury.
SC: Well that leads me into a couple of my questions, Once you got on the field in 2011, you played well for Clinton, really taking off in the 2nd half – success at the plate that you have just built on this year. Did something specific click for you during the 2nd half in ’11 or was it more a case of just getting back into game form after the long layoff from the injury?
SR: I think it was just getting at bats. Just finding out what works for you and what is consistent for you. Because, man -- in college, everyone changes their stance all the time trying to find a consistent approach. I didn't have it. I was messing around with being spread out, standing tall, changing my hands -- I was always working to find a way to get comfortable and find what worked for me. And that was true in the first half in Clinton, too. And I tried so many uncomfortable things and with the weather and everything I just didn't feel it.
You make minor changes -- even now, I'm going pretty well at the plate but I still make little tweaks here and there, and it's all about adjustments to a degree -- but I finally got to a point of consistency where I trusted my stance and my approach and what I was doing. So even if I went 0 for 4 for two or three straight games I would stick to it and trust it and then, four or five games down the road, I'd get a 2 for 4, a 3 for 5 or 4 for 5 or whatever. It's all about trusting yourself, keeping a consistent stance and working hard instead of always changing things up all the time.
SC: So another point that I was going to touch on that you brought up was your versatility. And, before I forget: Congratulations on being named one of the players headed to the Arizona Fall League for the Mariners. But have you heard what your focus is going to be in Arizona? Is it to move you around a bit more defensively to third, possibly the outfield?
SR: They haven't addressed that directly with me, but I spoke with Darrin Garner -- our infield coordinator -- and he told me that they would want me to get in at third a bit in the Fall League. And I've been taking ground balls at third base the past few weeks here in Jackson. He didn't go into any more detail than that or mention the outfield or anything, but he did touch on third base a little bit.
SC: So going back to the injury, do you feel that your arm is back to what it was before the injury?
SR: Oh yeah, definitely. I'd say it is even better than before the injury. I rehabbed it in Peoria with some of the best rehab guys and they actually taught me how to throw correctly -- using my shoulder and all of those muscles instead of just using my elbow. So I'd been throwing the ball wrong for my whole 17 years of playing baseball. I'd been throwing the wrong way and that put a lot of stress on my elbow. So my first year in Clinton, I think that is actually how me playing second base initially came up, because in throwing this new way after doing it wrong for so long, my muscles in my shoulders would get so tired so fast, so I'd play third a few days a week and then second, because it put less stress on my shoulder making those shorter throws. So they wanted to give me a break last year so they moved me to second part time.
SC: So then this season. All parts of your offensive game – particularly the extra base power – have taken yet another step forward. It actually started in the second half of last season, what clicked with you or was it just a case of becoming more comfortable or confident because of experiencing some success, or...?
SR: I think all of those factors play into it. Having success in what you're doing, building the library of experience, being confident in what you're doing and just gaining confidence in the mental aspect of my game and understanding the approach and the big picture. This past offseason I read a few mental books to help me get that part of my game in shape. Just to name a few there was Failing Forward, The Ways of the Peaceful Warrior -- books like that. They just really took my mental game to the next level, because, man, you see a lot of guys in the minor leagues that just don't have the mental ability to succeed. Their physical ability is off the charts, but they don't have their mental game in shape. So that is really what I focused on in this past offseason was just to focus on the strength of my mental game to take it to the next level. Get whatever edge you can get, you know?
SR: That's pretty much what's changed for me is just my mental aspect and understanding. If I get out, or if I go 0 for 4, as long as I have the same approach and same positive thinking -- even if that 0 for 4 is two line outs and two strike outs, so I had two quality plate appearances -- just keep that same mindset. And after the at bat, or after the game, I just wipe it away -- just forget about it. Sometimes I don't even remember what pitch I hit for a home run or whatever, if it is the first pitch or third pitch, because I want to face every at bat and every plate appearance with that same approach and not live in the past but be in the moment. That is what I tell myself before I step in the box; "be in the moment". As long as you operate like that and live in that moment -- the stats, the praise, the accolades -- all of that will take care of itself. As long as you do what you need to do in that moment.
SC: That's a great way to approach it.
Well, moving on from there; You had the opportunity to start this season playing for Pedro Grifol. What added benefit do you think there was for you and the other players having a manager with player development background at the helm?
SR: Man, Pedro is one of the greatest managers that I've ever had or ever seen in baseball. He's definitely a player's manager. He jokes around and gets along great with the team when the time is right, but he knows when it's time to get down to business. There is a fine line that the players know not to cross and where he knows not to cross. Above all else he just preached to have fun. That is what our motto was in High Desert; Have fun. Just like we were playing Little League Baseball. And Pedro won the Manager of the Year in the California League and that was well deserved. I can't think of a single guy that ever has spoken, or ever would speak, negatively of him. All of the players looked up to him, they know that he is a great leader, a great role model and a man who has a great track record and long list of things he has accomplished in baseball.
And for me, personally, we would always talk about the mental aspect of the game. We'd have quotes of encouragement, positive reinforcement on the board every day. I think that is something that built a lot of team chemistry and made it a very positive environment to be around.
SC: And now you are in Jackson, part of a very talented team and I'm sure a very positive environment there, as well, and you're heading into the playoffs with a great mix of hitting and pitching talent. What have you seen there that has allowed this team to succeed so much this season?
SR: Yeah, definitely. There is a lot of new faces coming in and out. Unfortunately I wasn't here when Hultzen, Carraway, Capps -- all of those guys were here. But Walker, Paxton -- those guys have obviously been around all year. And those guys know what they want out of the season and what they want out of the second half of the season, because they won the first half, basically pretty easily. But they want to finish the job and we want to finish the job. There has been a lot of hype and a lot of expectations put on the team, so we might as well just get it done.
SC: You had the opportunity back in March to spend time in big league camp at Spring Training and you came up with a few big hits. Did that experience help reaffirm your faith in yourself as a future big league talent?
SR: Oh yeah. Going in to Spring Training, I had no idea that I was going to be up with the big club as much as I ended up -- I think it was like 15 games that I was active on the roster. I was thinking that I'd get into one or maybe two games. But I ended up getting invited to mini-camp and the staff there really emphasized that the players there in mini-camp were there as being the future of the organization. And that was a great experience, just knowing that you were one of the guys that the organization thought highly of and just being able to see how the coaching staff interacted with the players. Knowing that I was there with the big leaguers and that I could play with them, you know. We see these guys on TV and we're always like, "man, these guys are SO good." But being up there and playing with guys like Ichiro, (Jesus) Montero and guys like that -- it was surreal. Like playing behind Felix (Hernandez) and you make a play behind him and he gives you a fist pump saying, "good play", ya know? That was a huge motivational tool.
SC: What was your biggest takeaway as far as advice from any coach or player during that time?
SR: Just to play for Wedge and talk to Wedge and know that he just wants baseball players. He wants guys that grind it out, play hard, know the game, are smart and leave it all out there on the field. Hard-nosed baseball players. And I still remember something that he said to the whole Spring Training room from my first Spring Training (in 2011), he said, "When you wake up in the morning and you look at yourself in the mirror, tell yourself that you're a big league player. I know that only a few of you in this room will actually do this, but the few of you that do it will give yourselves a better chance to actually make it." And I remembered that, so I still do it to this do. I look myself in the mirror every morning and tell myself I'm a big league player.
SC: Just a couple more questions for you here, Stefen. I saw on your Oregon State profile that your favorite player was Alex Rodriguez – I believe you were just 12 when he left Seattle, but were you a Mariners fan at all before becoming part of the organization?
SR: Oh yeah, definitely, I was a huge Mariners fan growing up; A-Rod, Griffey, Edgar, Buhner -- all of those guys. When I was younger, like Little League days, I was a huge Griffey fan, huge A-Rod fan. So my cousins were videotaping me one day, and I was just dancing around being a funny kid, and they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I said, "Professional baseball player." Then they ask what team and I say, "Seattle Mariners."
SC: (laughs) That's great. That is absolutely great. Do you still have that tape somewhere?
SR: Yeah, I'm sure that they do.
SC: You've got to hold onto that and keep it handy for when you make it up to Seattle. That would be awesome to show on the pregame show. Send it off to ROOT Sports and have them key it up for a pregame show or on their weekend show.
SC: What are your favorite baseball memories as a fan and as a player?
SR: I think hitting a walk-off Grand Slam this year is definitely up there. And I hit for the cycle, and a walk-off a couple of days ago here in Jackson. And being in Jackson while Felix threw his Perfect Game on the big screen. Watching that live here with his brother, Moises, and seeing how he reacts -- that was very cool as a fan and a member of the organization.
SC: Thanks again for giving me so much of your time today, Stefen. I'm looking forward to seeing what you do in 2013 and beyond and I hope to see that video someday soon.
SR: Alright. Thanks Rick. No problem, any time.
Looking for more Mariners prospect player interviews, news and articles? Want to keep up with which prospects are hot and cold for the M's? "Like" SeattleClubhouse on Facebook and follow SeattleClubhouse's Rick Randall on Twitter at @randallball.