Wilin Rosario came out of relative obscurity to lead all major league catchers in home runs last season with 28 big flies (one more than A.J. Pierzynski). I for one was called out for spending $8 on him in the LABR NL-only league last season. Obviously I had the last laugh on that one. Even so, I’m reluctant to suggest Wilin will be able to match or exceed that power effort in 2013, and that means I’m pumping the breaks just a bit with the outlook of the Rockies’ catcher.
Let’s dig right into it and break down those big flies which are the reason that Rosario stood out so much last season. The position many will take will have two parts. (1) This guy plays half his games in Colorado which is a huge boost to a player’s power output. (2) He’s only got 133 games of big league experience under his belt so the best could easily be yet to come. Point by point.
(1) Rosario hit 18 of his 28 taters at home. That a player had success hitting in Colorado is about as obvious as suggesting that Lacey Chabert is mildly attractive (she’s amazing if you ask this scribe). Coors Field was, according to Park Indices, the 3rd best park in the NL for right handed power hitters to bang one out in 2012 (it was 20 percent better than the league average).
(2) Here’s where the problem comes up. Some history.
In 395 minor league games Rosario went deep 61 times. That breaks down to 21 homers per 135 games. So far in his big league career he has gone deep an average of 32 times per 135 games. I think we’re looking at a small sample size skewing the numbers, don’t you? Maybe you don’t, that’s probably why you think I’m off in suggesting that Rosario isn’t likely to maintain his homer pace from last season. Are you aware that he went deep 28 times in 396 at-bats last season? If he kept up that pace over 500 at-bats we’d be talking about a 35 homer season. There have only been three 35 homer seasons by a catcher in the 21st century by the way (Mike Piazza had two, Javier Lopez had one).
Normally when a guy hits homers at this pace it’s got a lot to do with his ability to convert fly balls into bleacher reachers, and that is the case with Rosario. After posting a 21.4 percent HR/F mark in 16 games in ’11 he backed that up with a 25.5 percent mark in ’12 leaving him with a 25.0 percent career mark. How impressive is that number? Only six other men in baseball were able to post a mark of 25.0 percent in 2012 if they accrued more than 400 plate appearances. Is Rosario this type of elite power hitter? His minor league career track record say it’s possible as he was able to also post a HR/F ratio of 24.1 percent in the minor leagues the past two years. Still, I’m always reluctant to subscribe an elite number to a player with such little experience.
Let’s say that I’m only 80 percent right which would be about 30 percent better than I normally am. Let’s say that Rosario’s HR/F rate regresses to 20 percent in 2013, still an elite number (I should point out that only 22 men in baseball had a 20 percent mark last season in a season of 400 plate appearances). The real issue is that Rosario simply doesn’t lift the ball enough. The big league fly ball rate is about 36 percent. Last year Rosario’s fly ball rate was 36.5 percent (career 36.9). He’s merely a league average fly ball hitter (the last two years his fly ball mark in the minors was about 30 percent). If he doesn’t maintain his elite HR/F ratio then he will struggle to go deep 25 times, even with a season of 450 at-bats (he had 396 last year remember). It’s not that he won’t have a shot to go deep 25+ times in 2013, it’s just that a lot of things will have to break for him to get there.
As for his batting average he hit .270 last year, just ahead of his .267 career minor league mark. That’s pretty standard fair for a catcher, especially one with power, so there’s no reason to be overly concerned. However, there’s also little to go on if you are expecting growth in this category. Wilin, and yes the guy spells his name with on “L,” posted a line drive rate of 17.5 percent in the minors in 2011. He then followed that up with a 17.3 percent mark in 2012 leaving his 133 game big league ledger at 17.6 percent. It’s pretty clear this guy isn’t wrapping out liners like the second coming of Larry Walker. A 17 percent line drive rate is well below the big league average of 19-20 percent, and it’s indicative of a .262 hitter (his career mark). Rosario has also whiffed a lot, 119 times in 450 big league at-bats, and that also doesn’t speak to growth in the batting average category.
Rosario is a solid option at catcher for the 2013 season. Much like Salvador Perez though (see Perez’s Player Profile), I fear he will be over-drafted in 2013 (I ran a poll about the relative value of Wilin on the last day of the 2012 calendar to illustrate my point). Rosario should not be drafted with the expectation that he will substantially improve upon last years numbers. In fact, I’m not even suggesting that it would be wise to expect a full repeat of his 2013 efforts unless he racks up 100 more at-bats to help mask the per at-bat drop off. Like I wrote, Rosario is a solid option behind the dish but his breakout 2012 effort is his ceiling for now.
By Ray Flowers