Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Wilin Rosario: the Rockies' biggest enigma

It wasn’t long ago that Wilin Rosario was one of the rising stars in the Colorado Rockies organization. In fact, before this year, the 25-year-old was seen as a key part of the lineup for at least the next five years, if not more. Going into this year, the story was that his fielding was never going to be good behind the plate, but at least he had his power bat going for him.

In 2012, his first real season, Rosario hit .270, slugged .530, hit 28 homers in 396 at bats, and drove in 71 runs in 117 games. The next year, he hit .292, slugged .486, hit 21 homers in 449 at bats, and drove in 79 runs in 121 games. Pretty consistent, no? For a guy who spent the vast majority of the season behind the plate, those numbers are not just helpful but more than most teams get out of their catchers. After the end of last season, Rosario was a 24-year-old with 52 career homers.

With the season basically over for Rockies fans, the key question becomes this: which Wilin Rosario can we bank on next season and in future years? That’s where this gets difficult.

Then 2014 happened. You could say that about quite a few Rockies players as the team has slumped to 53-78, and you can certainly say it about Wilin Rosario. This year, our young catcher hasn’t been the asset at the plate that he was over the past two years. In 331 at bats, he’s hitting .244 with a putrid .289 on-base percentage, a .399 slugging percentage, and just 10 homers. After being worth seven offensive runs over the last two years (per Fangraphs), he’s cost the team 14 runs this year at the plate.

To add insult to injury, Rosario has just that: an injury. It wasn’t originally supposed to be serious, but Rosario has been nursing a wrist injury over the past week and was just placed on the disabled list. It might not be enough to keep him out for the meaningless last month of the season, but the Rockies might hold him out anyway, because they have nothing to play for. It’s possible that Rosario has played his last inning of the year, and even if he hasn’t, it’s clear that this is a huge step back in his development.

With the season basically over for Rockies fans, the key question becomes this: which Wilin Rosario can we bank on next season and in future years? That’s where this gets difficult. Unfortunately, I’m less than optimistic about Rosario’s future prospects. It’s easy to say now, but there were cracks in his armor even before this season.

Putting aside his suspect defense behind the plate and the fact that he is a liability on the base paths, Rosario never was a guy who walked. In 2012, he had a 5.9% walk rate. Last year, that was down to 3.2%, although it’s back up to the relatively high 5.9%, which still leaves a lot to be desired. A guy who walks this little is never going to have huge offensive potential, unless he has both speed and power or has power and can hit for a near-.300 average.

Well, Rosario was that guy last season, as he hit .292 and for power. The problem is what he did last year in terms of hitting for average was never sustainable. His BABIP, which should hover around .300, was .344 last season. Super fast guys can maintain a BABIP that high, but Rosario is by no means super fast.

Predictably, his BABIP nosedived this year, all the way to .276. Even if his BABIP settles between these two extremes, the current iteration of Rosario is not going to be more than a .270 hitter, particularly because he has struck out in 22% of his career plate appearances. And that would likely put his OBP in the .300-.320 range, which is less than ideal.

But can Rosario’s still substantial power cancel out his lack of on-base skill and make him an above-average hitter? That depends how substantial that power is. If Rosario’s 28 homer season was an aberration, and it looks like it might be (Rosario’s Isolated Power, which is SLG%-AVG, has dropped from .260 to .194 to .151 over the past three years), then his power might not be enough to make up for the lagging parts of his game. But if he can replicate that 2012 pace over even 450 at bats, he would be a 32 homer hitter and could probably post a .270/.310/.500 line.

Any more than that is probably unreasonable at this point, but that line is very solid for any player, and particularly for a catcher. The problem is that we don’t know if Rosario will ever be able to replicate his power from 2012, and he’s been trending the wrong direction.

What other position could he play?…Basically, unless Wilin Rosario starts throwing an 100 MPH fastball, it’s catcher or bust for him, at least as long as he’s a member of the Rockies.

And then there’s that defense, which has been suspect at best. Rosario has 12 passed balls, -7 defensive runs saved according to Baseball Reference, and a well below-average range factor this year. This all just confirms what we already knew: Rosario isn’t, and will never be, a good defensive catcher. What other position could he play?

Well, his 4.2 innings at third base in 2012 were a disaster, and Nolan Arenado isn’t going anywhere. Third base isn’t an option, and the outfield probably isn’t either, because Rosario hasn’t played in the outfield at all. Besides, the Rockies already have a bunch of capable outfielders.

That leaves first base. It’s possible that he can play there in the future, but for now, Justin Morneau is doing just fine. He’s set to be the starting first baseman for at least the next two years, so the Rockies have no immediate need, either. Basically, unless Wilin Rosario starts throwing an 100 MPH fastball, it’s catcher or bust for him, at least as long as he’s a member of the Rockies.

The Colorado Rockies will probably head into the 2015 season with Wilin Rosario as their starting catcher, partly because of his track record and partly because they don’t really have better options, at least not yet. But you’d better believe that they are exploring other options, because Rosario was terrible this season and has a sour combination of being slow, playing bad defense, and failing to get on-base at a good rate.

One thing’s clear: Rosario has to fix whatever ailed him this year, because he’s running out of time to prove that he can be the Rockies’ starting catcher over the next decade. At this point, it looks like Tom Murphy, a 2012 3rd round pick, might be the future starting catcher. This might be a pessimistic report on Rosario, but after his poor showing this season, he didn’t give Rockies fans much to look forward to.

Tags: Colorado Rockies Wilin Rosario

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