After near-miss in Rule 5, Romano looks to follow Sanchez to Blue Jays

Toronto Blue Jays right-handed pitcher Jordan Romano was a starter for the Class-A Lansing Lugnuts in 2016. (Photo credit: Jackson Management Group)

Jordan Romano sat up in his bed scouring his Twitter timeline.

He had slept through his alarm and the Rule 5 draft had already begun. After being left off the Toronto Blue Jays‘ 40-man roster, the pitching prospect was made available to any team willing to give him a major-league roster spot.

There were two possibilities. If selected, he would live his dream with a chance to pitch at the MLB level. If not, he would be right back where he was before — a member of the organization he grew up watching.

“It was a pretty crazy situation,” Romano said from his apartment in Florida, where the different scenarios played out in his head before the draft. “The tough part would be learning a new system. Different managers, different teammates, and on top of that competing for a big-league job right off the bat.”

His teammates said they would be happy for him either way. They didn’t want their friend to leave, but also hoped he did because it would mean he was getting a legitimate chance to make an opening day roster somewhere.

But on that morning Romano didn’t see his name called. He would eventually go unclaimed, which ensured the 24-year-old would remain with the team that drafted him.

“I feel good about it,” he said a day after the draft. “It was kind of weird not knowing if I would stay with the Jays. That’s the team I want to come up with.”

The Blue Jays managed to sneak Romano through the Rule 5 process along with former first-round pick Max Pentecost and fellow Canadian right-hander Andrew Case.

“There’s so many good players. Case could have been picked, Max could have been, or me,” Romano said of being the odd man out of the 40-man roster selections. “Anyone could have been on there and it would have been fine, but the guys who got picked are all great players so I’m happy for them.”

Leading up to the draft, the Markham, Ont. native was focusing on what he could control. He was set to train with Buffalo Bisons strength and conditioning coach Jason Dowse.

Romano has been working with Dowse since he was selected in the tenth round by the Blue Jays in 2014. But when he showed up this time around, he saw a familiar face in the small gym in Brampton, Ont. It was Aaron Sanchez.

The two tall, lean right-handers are close in build and age. They became workout partners and formed a bond that has already helped Romano.

“Not a lot of guys have someone they can just text or call and be like, ‘hey, what do you think about this exercise?’ He knows. He’s been there,” Romano said. “Having that resource I feel is a big benefit to me. I like picking his brain and seeing what he has to say.”

More valuable than the resource is the example Sanchez has set. The path has been laid out and Romano is doing everything he can to follow it step-for-step.

“Seeing his work ethic and how determined he is, it motivates me. Seeing him get after it makes me want to do the same,” Romano said. “He’s obviously been really successful so I’m watching how hard he works and what he does. I’m trying to do the same thing because I want to be where he’s at.”

Sanchez’s elite fastball earned him a debut in the Blue Jays’ bullpen as a 22-year-old. He continued to refine his secondary pitches before landing a spot in the starting rotation — a proven recipe for success.

Romano, who spent last season as a starter for the high-A Dunedin Blue Jays, notched a career-high 138 innings just a year removed from Tommy John surgery. He already possesses an above-average fastball and is working hard to get his other pitches to that level.

“I was trying to throw a change-up all year. I probably tried seven or eight different grips,” he admitted. “It was tough. I was struggling with it a lot in the beginning and middle of the season.”

The pitch started to click for him in August and Romano hopes that will translate into the upcoming season, when he’ll look to build on the 3.39 ERA and 1.41 WHIP he posted in 2017.

With the dust settled on the Rule 5 draft and the target destination set, Romano will look to follow Sanchez’s development path to the major leagues and turn his training partner into a teammate.

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