JoJo Romero made it look easy.
The 20-year-old lefty took the hill for the first time in the Florida State League on July 2, a scorching Sunday afternoon in Clearwater.
When he was through, Romero had mowed down 10 Tampa Yankees batters while allowing just an unearned run in his Clearwater Threshers debut. He went on to whiff 19 in 12.1 innings through his first two starts for Clearwater, which both ranked in the top-five single-game strikeout performances by a Thresher this year.
Romero is impressing in his first full professional season, after the Philadelphia Phillies selected him in the fourth round of the 2016 draft out of Yavapai College in Arizona. He joined Clearwater at the start of July after an All-Star first half in Lakewood, where he went 5-1 with a 2.11 ERA in 13 starts, racking up 79 strikeouts in 76.2 innings.
He was one of three Lakewood Blue Claws to earn the honor of playing in the South Atlantic League All-Star game in Columbia, South Carolina, where he stuck out two batters in a perfect fourth inning.
"It was pretty cool," Romero says. "I made friends with people around the league that I've played against and just got to hang out with, so being there together with all of them was pretty cool. And my dad and my brother were able to fly out, so having them there, and especially being on Father's Day weekend getting to spend it with them, that was pretty awesome."
It was right around that time that the Oxnard, California native added a new weapon to his already-extensive arsenal. Romero - who throws a four-seam fastball that reaches 95 mph, a sinking two-seam, a changeup, slider, and curveball - began throwing a cutter toward the end of June.
"I didn't throw my cutter (in college)," Romero says, noting that he only began using the pitch in his last two starts in Lakewood.
Romero explains that he learned the grip from former Blue Claws and current Threshers teammate Trevor Bettencourt.
"I was asking him one day 'how do you throw that?' And I used that grip and threw it, and it cut a little bit, and so I just started playing around with it when we were playing catch and thought it was pretty decent. Threw it in my bullpen, it was pretty good, threw it a couple times in my first game and it was effective, and just kind of carried it on ever since then."
Back in college Romero worked with a standard four-pitch mix, first as a freshman reliever at the University of Nevada in 2015, then last year as a starter on the Junior College World Series champion Yavapai College staff.
Romero had wound up at Yavapai after Nevada head coach Jay Johnson left for the University of Arizona following the 2015 season. Romero, who was recruited to Nevada by Johnson and who has a lot of extended family in Arizona, transferred to Yavapai with the intention of joining Arizona for his junior season.
Instead, he landed on the MLB.com Top 200 prospects list at No. 124, and the Phillies came calling in the fourth round.
Romero's proper name is Joseph, but he picked up the nickname "JoJo" incidentally back in Little League, and it stuck.
"When you're playing Little League, they usually would have on the bench little seat markers," Romero says. "It'd be like a baseball and they'd put your name inside of it, and just put it on the bench so you would know where to sit.
"But they always put "JoJo" on mine, I don't know the reason why. It just kind of stuck with me ever since."
By any name, Romero is putting up numbers that are hard to ignore.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.