CLEARWATER, Fla. - Ramon Rosso’s one year of professional baseball was discouraging enough that he decided to retire without ever playing a game. He signed with the Dodgers in July of 2015 and was released in July of 2016. Rosso was cut before pitching one inning.
“I wasn’t improving in any aspect, so they lost hope in me,” Rosso said.
Rosso, a right-handed pitcher who took a circuitous route to become a Phillies prospect, lost hope, too. He was living with his mother in the Dominican Republic and planned to move to Spain, where he once lived, to be an auto mechanic with his dad.
Baseball, he thought, was finished. He found a new career. Rosso even returned to Barcelona to renew government documents in preparation for the move.
“It was pretty much a done deal,” Rosso said. “I was going to go for good.”
But then Rosso’s Domincan pitching coach, Luis Marte, intervened. He told Rosso to keep chasing his baseball dream, recognizing the potential that first attracted the Dodgers to give Rosso $60,000. Rosso earned his contract with the Dodgers after impressing them in Spain as Rosso extended his trip to see his father after learning the Dodgers were holding a tryout.
And Marte believed that Rosso could impress another team. He worked with Luis Garcia, a Phillies scout, to arrange a tryout for Rosso in front of Sal Agostinelli, the Phillies director of international scouting.
Rosso pitched well enough to be signed by the Phillies, opening another unlikely door to pro ball. Six months after being released by the Dodgers, Rosso’s dream was reborn.
“My pitching coach was there for me,” Rosso said. “He worked with me really hard. It’s something that I’ll always be grateful for. You don’t always have someone like that and you don’t always get an opportunity like this.”
Rosso reached triple A last season, but he posted a 4.46 ERA with 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings in 24 starts between double-A Reading and triple-A Lehigh Valley. His strikeout numbers were impressive in the lower levels of the minors but declined last season. Rosso finished last year a step away from the major leagues, but not quite on the team’s radar. His work this winter changed that.
Rafael Chavez, the Phillies minor-league director of pitching development, instructed Rosso to work this offseason at Driveline Baseball. The training facility outside of Seattle has used unorthodox methods to revolutionize how baseball players train. The Phillies - just like most organizations - have taken notice. They’ve plucked several Driveline employees to work in their player-development department, most notably Jason Ochart, who co-owned Driveline and is now the Phillies’ minor-league hitting coordinator.
Rosso wanted to add velocity this winter to his fastball, which sat last season in the low-90s. He already had a good slider, but his change-up remained a work-in-progress. It was hard to imagine Rosso making a major-league impact without a better fastball.
So he trained at Driveline by throwing weighted baseballs, a training regimen Driveline introduced to build velocity and was later popularized by All-Star pitcher Trevor Bauer. For Rosso, it worked.
“This year,” Rosso said. “I touched 97.”
And now he’s a prospect. Rosso will likely start the season in the triple-A starting rotation, but a transition to the bullpen could move him quickly to the major leagues. He’s impressed this spring as a non-roster invitee to camp. He pitched the first two innings of Monday’s Grapefruit League game as a replacement for Aaron Nola, who was sent home with the flu.
Rosso paired his improved fastball with a slider and a deceptive delivery behind a sturdy 6-foot-4 frame. The Phillies will need help this season in the bullpen, which remains unsettled less than three weeks before they open the season on March 26 in Miami. Rosso, if he pitches well at triple A, will get a chance.
“He’s been a starter, but I think at this point, we’re looking at him as a bullpen piece,” manager Joe Girardi said. “If he was not to make the team, he’d probably go back to the rotation. We’re taking a look at him.
“Has some velocity. Has a pretty good slider. Throws strikes. Seems to be pretty calm out there. He’s pitched in some tough situations and has handled everything so far.”
Rosso allowed a run Monday on two hits, struck out one, and walked none in his two innings against the Yankees. Not bad for a mechanic.