DENVER -- In 2012, a 23 year-old Wilin Rosario finished a distant 4th in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting thanks in large part to his prodigious power. The catcher, nicknamed the Baby Bull due to his great strength, swatted 28 home runs and drove in 71 runs in just 117 games on his way to a .269/.304/.530 (AVG/OBP/SLG) batting line.
This season Rosario hasn't been nearly as potent, but his .277/.311/.475 line with 15 HRs in 86 games still places him well above average offensively when measured against other catchers. Interestingly, he's been pedestrian at Coors (.250/.287/.470) but very good on the road (.307/.338/.480). After starting gangbusters in April (.350/.373/.650), Rosario cooled off considerably in May (.180/.223/.270).
"When you slump, you get a little shorter to the ball," Rosario said. "I've learned to be patient, keep swinging the bat like you usually swing it: hard, trying to drive the ball -- one day they're going to fall in." After a tough May, Rosario was able to find his stroke in June (.305/.345/.561). Of course he, like most of the Rockies offense, has slumped in July -- but it sounds like he has the mindset and talent to turn it around in August. The reality is that Rosario is a 24 year-old catcher who is already an above average offensive player.
The knock on Rosario has rarely been his offense though, but rather his defense behind the plate. Rosario's 21 passed balls and 13 errors behind the plate in 2012 led MLB by a large margin and his general inexperience behind the plate no doubt contributed to the Rockies' historic pitching woes in 2012. By those measures, he's improved slightly this year, though his 8 passed balls leads the NL and his 7 errors rank 2nd among catchers.
Still, by most accounts his game calling has improved (and so have the results of the men he is catching) while his total of 15 baserunners gunned down ranks 5th in the NL. I asked Wilin about how having a more veteran staff (including a healthy and effective Jhoulys Chacin and Jorge De La Rosa) pitch to him has helped his catching ability.
"Oh yeah, that's helped a lot. They throw a lot of balls in the zone, hit their spots better. They talk to me a lot about the game, about the different situations, and help me improve the mental portion of it," Rosario replied. "When you've got a veteran pitcher on the mound, you don't have to worry as much about not being on the same page, you can concentrate more on just catching the ball. You have more time to learn about how to call the game, how to stick with your plan -- and then you can get your team the win."
Also new between 2012 and 2013 has been the return of veteran catcher Yorvit Torrealba, who has adapted well to playing the backup and mentor to Rosario.
"The biggest thing I've gotten from Yorvit is winning," said Rosario. "Obviously everybody wants to win, but Yorvit really wants it. He's also been able to help me notice the little things when I'm catching."
Wilin's brother Jairo is also a catcher in the Rockies organization, plying his trade for the Grand Junction Rockies. Rosario was able to see him go 1-2 in the game he attended over the All-Star break. I asked Wilin to compare his game to his brother's.
"When I played at that level, I had more power," Rosario said. "But my brother knows more of the mental part of the game than I did when I was his age. That's what I've been able to help him with."
Wilin played Rookie ball at Casper while Jairo plays at Grand Junction. While he enjoyed his time in Casper, Wilin admitted that "Grand Junction is a little bit better. The city's not too big, but it's beautiful and the fans were great." I asked him about his favorite minor league stop: "Tulsa -- they had a new facility that was great to play at."
While Wilin's soft-spokeness and accent made it a little tough to understand every word he was saying, he was very gracious and good-naturedly answered my questions. Best of luck to the Baby Bull the rest of the year!