The ACL is a fickle little sinew. Properly known as the anterior cruciate ligament, the ACL works in conjunction with the posterior cruciate ligament to stabilize the knee. The ACL and PCL form a cross inside the joint and connect the bottom of the femur to the top of the tibia. Out of the two tendons, athletes injure the ACL far more often. Once a tear has occurred, it is impossible to play again without surgical repair.
Like any medical procedure, doctors have made great advancements in ACL replacement. When my father tore the ACL in his left knee back in the 1960s, there was nothing that could be done. Back then, an ACL injury was basically a death sentence for any athletic career. To this day, my dad has problems with his unstable knee. On numerous occasions, his joint has slightly slipped out of socket. Apparently, this is very uncomfortable for him.
My oldest brother tore the ACL in his left knee back in the mid-90s. His knee was destroyed. They filleted it like a fish and replaced his ACL with a piece of his hamstring. He had problems with the bad joint for the rest of his football career.
I tore my left ACL — yes, I do think this is genetics and not coincidence — being an overzealous intramural athlete while in law school. When it happened, the pop was audible. For about a minute, it felt like someone stuck a knife through the middle of my knee and twisted it, but the pain quickly subsided and I was able to walk comfortably. Six hours later, my knee was the size of a cantaloupe.
The next morning, I limped like Hugh Laurie into the doctor’s office. He drained my knee with the same syringe that was used in the adrenaline injection scene in Pulp Fiction. As the doctor was doing this, I remember him telling me that blood in the fluid usually signifies a torn ligament, whereas clear fluid is indicative of a sprain. When it came out maroon, I knew I was screwed.
My surgery was quite a bit easier than my brother’s. It was done arthroscopically and my new ACL came from a cadaver. (I’ve since decided that my donor wasn’t a very good athlete.) I have one tiny scar just below my knee from where the doctor threaded a dead guy’s ACL through the top of my fibula. While the surgery was relatively easy, the rehab process was awful. My left leg shrunk to half the size of my right leg. For several months, I couldn’t extend it, bend it or stand on it alone. It took roughly eight months before I could participate in sports, but it was a good two years before I was somewhat myself again. Five years later, I still haven’t regained full range of motion and my knee gets sore whenever the weather changes.
Rockies top catching prospect, Wilin Rosario, tore his ACL in late July, but didn’t have surgery until the end of August. Right now, he can probably walk without the aid of crutches, but his leg is skinny, stiff and weak. He won’t be ready to crouch behind the plate until April at the earliest and may not be 100% healthy at all next season. Regardless of the advancements made in ACL repair, the injury is still a major setback. Even more so for a developing catcher — a position that takes a toll on the knees. It will be a long time before Wilin regains the form that has made him one of baseball’s top catching prospects.
Rosario signed with the Rockies as a sixteen-year-old from Bonao, Dominican Republic. For most of the organization’s existence, the Rockies have failed miserably at scouting the Dominican. However, over the last several years, they have made their presence in the DR a priority. For the Rockies, establishing a foundation in the Dominican is so important because of players like Rosario. The Rockies didn’t have to worry about another team selecting Wilin in the draft. Instead, they were able to sign him at a young age for a reasonable price. Any team that does its due diligence will find young, affordable talent in the DR.
As expected from any teenager, Rosario struggled in his first two seasons with the Rockies. In 2006, as a seventeen-year-old playing in the Dominican Summer League, Rosario hit .249/.309/.324. He spent all of 2007 playing for Casper and was even worse, hitting .209/.283/.296. However, despite his poor offensive numbers Rosario’s potential was visible. More importantly, while most kids his age were dominating weak high school pitching, Wilin gained valuable experience against professional ballplayers.
In 2008, the Rockies sent Rosario back to Casper and their patience with the young catcher began to pay dividends. He hit .316/.371/.532 in the short Pioneer League season and caught the eye of everyone in the organization. After his outstanding 2008 performance, the Rockies deemed him worthy of a non-roster invite to 2009 spring training. He played all of the 2009 season with Modesto, but regressed offensively, hitting just .266/.297/.404 in 58 games. That fall, he was invited to play in the Arizona Fall League; Wilin rebounded nicely from the previous season. He appeared in 15 games, hit four homeruns and compiled a .916 OPS.
Last year, he played for Tulsa and continued to build off his AFL success. Prior to injuring his knee in late July, Rosario hit 19 homeruns in just 270 ABs. He was selected to play in the Futures Game and was named the Texas League Player of the Month for July. Even after his surgery, the Rockies put Rosario on the 40 Man Roster in December.
Injuries have become a concern with Wilin. Catching is the most physically demanding position in baseball and Rosario’s ability to hold up to the strain is questionable. He missed significant time in 2009 and 2010 due to injury and has never played over 73 games in a season. He has a chance to be great behind the dish, but injuries may force the Rockies to change Wilin’s position before he has the opportunity.
If Rosario can stay healthy and produce, he could make a push to be the Rockies’ starting catcher in 2012. As I have previously noted in this blog, the Rox have several promising prospects at catcher. Mike McKenry, Jordan Pacheco and Rosario will vie for big league playing time over the next couple of years and the Rockies must find a way to get them all more experience behind the plate. Out of the three catchers, Rosario has the most potential. He is younger than Pacheco and McKenry and has more power with the bat. Defensively, Wilin is better than Pacheco, but isn’t as developed as McKenry. Rosario’s footwork and tremendous arm strength are impressive.
Ultimately though, it will be Rosario’s health that decides his future with the Rox. The good news is that, aside from the ACL, Rosario did little damage to his knee. Let’s hope he can bounce back quickly.