Outfielder using WBC at-bats to work on swing, build momentum for 2017 season
By Jesse Sanchez
CULIACAN, Mexico -- Twins outfielder Eddie Rosario stepped into the batting cage behind the home dugout at Estadio Tomateros, and the chirping from his Puerto Rico teammates started immediately.
It was time to give a scouting report.
"That's Eddie Rosario, big leaguer," one player said. "Minnesota Twins future star."
"That's a plus arm and a 6.4 runner (60-yard dash) right there. Plays outfield and some second base," another player said. "Oh, and bad hair. Bad, bad hair."
Rosario is at the Caribbean Series this week to enjoy a few laughs with his good friends, but he's also here to get better. Minnesota's starting left fielder has come a long way since making his debut in 2015, but he remains a work in progress -- and he knows it.
"There's an extremely high level of competition, and there's a ton of civic pride associated with various teams in Puerto Rico and certainly when they go to the Caribbean Series," Twins general manager Thad Levine said. "For a young player like Eddie Rosario, someone we view as a cornerstone type of player moving down the line for the franchise in the future, any time you can expose him to that level of competition and truly evaluate how he performs in it is really invaluable."
Rosario, who is also on the preliminary roster for Puerto Rico's World Baseball Classic team, had five hits in 28 at-bats for Mayaguez this winter. He is hitless with three strikeouts in his first seven at-bats in the Caribbean Series.
"I love to play all the time. I feel more prepared for the start of the season with Minnesota," Rosario said. "This is my job. I have a lot of love for this game, and this is what I want to do every day."
Rosario, 25, had a breakout rookie season in 2015. He led the Major Leagues with 15 triples and finished sixth in the American League Rookie of the Year voting. But the high hopes for a hot start to '16 were dashed when he struggled at the plate and was optioned to Triple-A Rochester on May 19.
The outfielder was hitting .209 with a .227 on-base percentage and 31 strikeouts in 115 at-bats at the time of his demotion.
"Eddie is one of those hitters that is so talented that he truly believes he can hit anything a pitcher throws. He's actually right, and he has great eye-hand coordination, but the downside is that he ends up swinging at a lot of pitches that are less attractive to hit, and some that are out of the zone," Levine said. "The good pitchers in the game are going to exploit that. He did a good job of cutting down on that toward the end of the season, but it's going to be something he is going to continue to work on to put himself in the best position to excel on the Major League level."
According to Fangraphs, Rosario swung at 57 percent of the pitches he saw this past season in the big leagues, including 44.3 percent that were out of the strike zone and 71.8 percent that were in the strike zone. What's more, he made contact with 64.9 percent of the pitches out of the strike zone and 79.4 percent of the pitches in the strike zone. Overall, he made contact with 73.3 percent of the pitches he swung at.
"For both he and Byron Buxton, two players we view as two of the brightest young stars in our franchise, they both have similar track records," Levine said. "They both came up to the big leagues, and both had not experienced a lot of failure throughout the Minor Leagues and both were challenged at the Major League level. They were sent back down and challenged to make an adjustment. Both of them took the challenge head on, performed very well while they were down in the Minor Leagues, came up and never looked back."
The resilient Rosario was recalled on July 3 after hitting .319 in 41 games at Triple-A. He ended up hitting .291 with nine home runs and 16 RBIs after the All-Star break. He also sported an on-base-percentage of .328, slugged .450 and had a .778 OPS in the second half.
"When I was sent down to the Minors this year, I was frustrated, but thank God I was able to rebound," Rosario said. "I made a big adjustment. I worked really hard with my swing and the breaking ball, and I believe it worked."
Rosario was diagnosed with a fractured left thumb in late September, and he missed the final weeks of the season. Overall, he finished 2016 with a .269 batting average with 10 homers, 17 doubles, and two triples. He racked up 32 RBIs in 92 games, and he stole five bases.
"In Eddie's case, there are two things you hope he takes away from [the Caribbean Series]. No. 1, with the injury he sustained last year, you just want to see him healthy and with some momentum heading into Spring Training and making up some of the at-bats he missed due to the injury," Levine said. "Secondly, it's our viewpoint that winter leagues are highly competitive, especially in places like Puerto Rico where they are geared up for the World Baseball Classic and are expecting to have a strong showing as they did in the last World Baseball Classic. That's a good challenge for him."
Rosario's next big test will come later this month in Florida. Twins pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training on Feb. 13. Position players report on Feb. 18.
"My expectation is to have a great season, so that I can establish myself in the Major Leagues," he said. "Continue my dream and try to play for a lot of seasons in the Major Leagues. My overall expectations are to work hard and to help my team win."
Jesse Sanchez, who has been writing for MLB.com since 2001, is a national reporter based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.