DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Ricky Romero was forced to take a long road to the Major Leagues, but once he got there, the native of East Los Angeles found a quick path to success.
That was further validated on Friday, when the Blue Jays announced that Romero will be their Opening Day starter on April 1. It's a lofty accomplishment for a player with only two full Major League seasons under his belt.
"It means everything," said Romero, who is 27-18 with a 3.99 ERA in his career. "To be able to do what I've done, what I've accomplished in my first two years here in Toronto has been amazing. ... It's an honor."
Romero couldn't help but use Friday's announcement as a way to reflect on the struggles he experienced during the early stages of his professional baseball career.
The product of Cal State Fullerton was selected with the sixth overall pick in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft. Expectations ran high, but early on, Romero failed to live up to the hype.
In 2007, Romero went 3-6 with a 4.84 ERA while walking 52 batters over 19 starts with Class A Dunedin and Double-A New Hampshire. One year later, things weren't much better. He went 8-8 with a 4.55 ERA in stints with New Hampshire and Triple-A Syracuse.
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At the time, it appeared most of the Blue Jays' fan base had lost confidence that Romero would develop into a successful pitcher. He was labeled as a bust, and even general manager J.P. Ricciardi went on record to voice his concern.
It was a point in his career that Romero will never forget.
"There was a Sports Illustrated article that was written, and there were five or six guys on the cover of the '05 Draft," Romero said. "Inside, there was an article, and J.P. had said at the time that they had made the wrong decision. I cut out the headline of the article and I put it in my locker. Even when I was struggling, I remember reading it and just saying, 'You know what, I'm going to prove everybody wrong one day.'"
Over the first two years of his career in Toronto, Romero has done just that. In 2009, he went 13-9 with a 4.30 ERA en route to being named the club's Rookie of the Year by the Toronto chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
That season earned him a five-year, $30.1 million contract, and he responded by posting a team high in innings and a 3.73 ERA in 2010.
Even though it's still early in Romero's career, Blue Jays manager John Farrell said that track record spoke for itself.
"He's the guy we'll look to match up against anybody," Farrell said. "We have that confidence in him that he can match up with whoever is put out there by any other club.
"But equal to that is a guy that sets the tone with his work ethic, his priorities -- not only holding himself accountable, but if the situation called for it, he wouldn't back away from holding others accountable as well."
Friday's announcement doesn't exactly qualify as a surprise. Romero has been the presumed ace of the staff ever since the Blue Jays traded No. 1 starter Shaun Marcum to Milwaukee in December.
Romero was completely caught off guard when that deal was announced. The two pitchers were close both on and off the field, but Romero knew it was part of the game and looked at the move as an opportunity.
"I'm pretty demanding of myself, so yeah, I did," Romero said when asked if he expected to be named the club's Opening Day starter.
"I expect to be the best when I'm out there. Am I going to be the best? Probably not, but I know what it takes to get me ready for a game and to get ready for a season. Obviously, when those expectations are not met by me, I beat myself up pretty good. But it's something that I definitely envisioned and was hoping to get."
Pitching coach Bruce Walton organized the rotation at the start of Spring Training to set Romero up to be the Blue Jays' No. 1 starter. Despite that move, though, Farrell said he wasn't in any rush to make an official announcement. Instead, he waited until a coaches meeting on Friday morning.
"It was very short," Farrell said of the meeting where the decision was made. "More than anything, I think it was a matter of us going through a couple of weeks of Spring Training and making sure he took a couple of turns, ensuring everything was sound. ... We weren't in a rush to say, 'Hey, this is who is starting on Opening Day.' We didn't feel the need to do that."
The Blue Jays have yet to name the rest of their starting pitchers and Farrell said he plans to take his time with that decision as well. He did acknowledge, though, that having Brandon Morrow and then Brett Cecil follow Romero in the rotation would be a "logical progression."
The final two members of the staff likely won't be announced until the final week of Spring Training. Jesse Litsch, Marc Rzepczynski, Kyle Drabek and Jo-Jo Reyes are competing for the jobs, and Farrell wants to see as much as possible of each pitcher before making a final determination.
Once the rotation is set, Romero's leadership role will begin in earnest. It's a role that Romero says he will embrace and one he feels suited for after the difficult path he took to the Majors.
"I'm a guy that is very approachable," Romero said. "I tell the guys -- the younger guys -- 'Whenever you have questions, come up to me ... I might seem a little quiet, but you guys can talk to me.' I feel like some guys have taken advantage of that, and when they have a chance to talk to me, they're learning, as I'm learning from them."