Teammates Eddie Rosario and José Berríos have been part of a resurgence in great Puerto Rican baseball players in recent years, and one of the few bright spots in what has otherwise been a disappointing season for the Twins so far. Minnesota is 34-40 and projected to finish the season with 80 wins, per FanGraphs, a year after a surprising 85-win season that saw them clinch the second Wild Card slot. Some regression was to be expected, but even if they repeat their 2017 season, the AL playoff race is more or less set. The Twins are going to have to win at least 90 games to surprise anyone with a playoff berth.
Of the two of my fellow Boricuas mentioned, I will focus on Rosario here. I will cover Berríos next week.
Rosario was never a high end prospect. One would find him in the 50-100 range of prospect lists. He was seen as a low-ceiling, high-floor player. His calling card was his hit tool, which projected to be a 60 on the 20-80 scouting scale. He was a plus runner too, and he had the potential to provide defensive value in a corner outfield spot. The knock on him was his lack of power. He could hit for doubles and triples, but home runs were the bigger question. According to a Baseball Prospectus scouting report, Rosario would change his swing when trying to hit for power, and it affected his outcomes.
If you can hit in the major leagues, you will get playing time. Period. That being said, a corner outfielder with a lack of power can be a problem. Rosario never walked much either, which put added pressure on his ability to hit for average in order to post respectable OBPs.
Rosario’s first two seasons in the majors were not full seasons because he spent some time in the minors. He hit for more power than expected, turning in a .175 ISO over that period. Unfortunately, he walked less than 3.5 percent of the time, and combined with his .268 AVG meant that he could not crack a .300 OBP. He had enough defense and baserunning value to make him a decent major league player, but a low OBP from a corner outfielder is a big problem.
Rosario started to turn things around in 2017, his first full season in the majors. He greatly improved his strikeout and walk rates, though he still was walking at a below average rate. He hit .290/.328/.507 with 27 home runs. Thanks to his improved average and walk rates, he was able to post a decent OBP. Perhaps the biggest surprised was his newly demonstrated ability to hit for power without selling out for it. His defensive metrics were not as good, but that is likely just a sample size thing. He was careless on the base paths, though, getting caught eight times in 17 steal attempts.
This year, Rosario is putting it all together. He is hitting .320/.357/.581 with 17 home runs. His 152 wRC+ is tied with Brandon Belt for tenth-best in baseball. He is running the bases better than ever, too. He has only stolen six bases in eight attempts, but he has done a good job of taking the extra base and avoiding outs on the bases. All together, he has already been worth 3.9 WAR. If he keeps this up, he is going to rank in the top ten in MVP voting at the end of the season.
Rosario appears to be a late adopter of the fly ball revolution. He used to put the ball on the ground more often than in the air, but this year he is putting the ball in the air almost 50 percent more often than he is putting it on the ground. During the first three seasons of his career, he had an average launch angle of 12.3 degrees. This year it is 19.6 degrees.
Despite changes that Rosario has made, it is doubtful that he is a true-talent .395 wOBA hitter. Even if he regresses to something closer to his .343 xwOBA, that is still a great player when factoring in his defense and baserunning, too. The good news for Twins fans is that he is under contract through 2021.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.