Romak could slug his way to Classic
Bucs prospect hoping to swing the bat for his native Canada
Back before the 2007 season began, the Pirates traded for first baseman Adam LaRoche. While he was the marquee name coming to Pittsburgh in the deal, he didn't make the trip alone.
As is often the case, there was a Minor Leaguer who made the switch along with LaRoche. When Jamie Romak was included in the deal that netted Mike Gonzalez and Brent Lillibridge for the Braves, the '03 fourth-round pick was coming off his first full season of pro ball. The outfielder/first baseman, who's on the Canadian provisional roster for the World Baseball Classic, has shown one particularly intriguing tool in the two subsequent seasons.
"He obviously has power," Pirates farm director Kyle Stark said. "He's got a solid feel for the strike zone, so he'll get some walks. There's going to be some swing and miss with a power guy like him. We're trying to challenge him to be more productive with two-strike counts and have more consistent at-bats."
In '07, Romak split time between Class A Hickory and Class A Advanced Lynchburg and hit 20 home runs. A year ago, he began back in Lynchburg before moving up to Double-A Altoona, belting a career-high 25 home runs along the way.
While he did slug .517 for the year, he also hit just .259 while striking out 127 times in 110 games. That's more or less in line with a career that has seen the 23-year-old Ontario native hit .246, slug .472 and strike out 447 times in 424 games.
"I think that'll be the type of player he'll be," Stark said. "Our challenge to him is to maximize those abilities. Trying to get him to good counts, which lead to walks ... hitting our pitch when we get it, which can lead to home runs."
The Pirates have also had Romak focus on two other aspects of his game. One is his two-strike approach. They understand that Romak is likely to swing and miss from time to time, but feel he can be a much better hitter if he can do more when behind in the count.
They've also had him working on his defensive versatility. Originally a third baseman whom the Braves moved to the outfield, Romak played a lot of first base last year. He was coming off shoulder surgery, so some of the move was of necessity, but the Pirates also thought it would give him an added opportunity to move up in the organization.
It may also give him a better chance to make the final Team Canada roster for the World Baseball Classic. Romak reported in terrific shape and came to Florida early to prepare for that possibility.
"Any time our guy has the chance to play at a higher level, it's good for him, especially when the atmosphere will raise the level of play," said Stark, who added that Romak will mostly play at first in 2009, but will get enough time in the outfield to remain comfortable there. "To play in that kind of competitiveness would be very good for Jamie. It'd be good for all of our guys."
LHP Chi-Hung Cheng was originally signed out of Chinese Taipei by the Blue Jays in November 2003. He never made it past the Class A Midwest League with Toronto, though he does have a 3.39 career ERA (4.88 in 2008, after missing nearly all of '07 following labrum surgery). The '05 Midwest League All-Star, now 23, signed with the Pirates this offseason.
Lefty reliever David Davidson was drafted by the Pirates in the 10th round of the '02 draft, becoming the Pirates' highest-drafted Canadian high school player at the time. After a successful year in Double-A, Davidson tossed 5 1/3 hitless innings for Team Canada in the Beijing Summer Olympics.
RHP Diomedes Garcia is a 23-year-old Panamanian reliever who made four appearances with the Gulf Coast League Pirates in '08, allowing one run over five innings.
RHP Joshua Hill was on the Australian Classic roster in '06, though he didn't get much work. The Pirates acquired him from the Twins in the Minor League phase of the '07 Rule 5 Draft. He pitched for Double-A Altoona last year, going 4-11 with a 4.53 ERA over 111 1/3 innings.
LHP Paul Mildren was also on the '06 Aussie squad, appearing in two Classic games and yielding three runs in three innings. The 24-year-old began his career with the Marlins in '01, then was picked up off waivers by the Royals near the end of the '07 season. Kansas City turned him into a reliever in '08 and the Pirates signed him this offseason.
Eliecer Navarro is a small 21-year-old lefty out of Panama. He pitched for the Pirates' club in the Dominican Summer League last year, where he posted a 1.42 ERA over 15 starts with a ridiculous 108-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 76 innings.
OF Ciro Rosero is also on the Panamanian provisional roster. He played for State College in the short-season New York-Penn League in '08, hitting .266 over 55 games. The 22-year-old was a postseason All-Star in the Venezuelan Summer League back in '06.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.