The Rosario conundrum

Doug Pensinger

The Rockies may be approaching a difficult decision regarding their young, powerful catcher.

Let's talk about a perfect world for a minute. This is a world where Wilin Rosario, the Colorado Rockies soon-to-be 25 year old catcher takes a step forward. Gone are the days of leading the league in wild pitches per inning and the 2nd most passed balls per inning (thanks JP Arencibia). Through hard work with the coaching staff and drills drills drills Rosario improves his pitch framing abilities enough so that he's no longer among the worst in the game.

Qualifying catchers (2013)
Inn SB CS
PB WP PB/Inn WP/Inn
Wilin Rosario 910.1 53 19 9 47 0.009889 0.051643
Miguel Montero 1006.2 31 15 9 50 0.008945 0.049692
Russell Martin 1051.1 53 36 4 51 0.003806 0.048521
A.J. Ellis 972.1 35 28 6 45 0.006172 0.046292
A.J. Pierzynski 1005 49 24 6 45 0.00597 0.044776
Salvador Perez 1115.1 46 25 3 49 0.00269 0.043942
Chris Iannetta 921.2 84 20 6 40 0.006513 0.043422
J.P. Arencibia 1058.2 62 21 13 40 0.012285 0.0378
Nick Hundley 928 81 28 4 34 0.00431 0.036638
Welington Castillo 956 67 28 8 34 0.008368 0.035565
Jonathan Lucroy 1074 80 22 7 37 0.006518 0.034451
John Buck 922.2 39 16 6 31 0.006506 0.033615
Jarrod Saltalamacchia 1004 89 24 7 33 0.006972 0.032869
Buster Posey 1031 63 27 3 33 0.00291 0.032008
Matt Wieters 1201 44 24 5 28 0.004163 0.023314
Yadier Molina 1115.1 26 20 3 22 0.00269 0.019729

While we're at it, let's have Rosario improve his plate discipline and increase his walk rate while maintaining his 25+ home run power. Now we have one of the premier backstops in the game. Great news! Let's print playoff tickets.

Alas, we do not live in a perfect world. While I do not doubt Rosario's work ethic, it seems awfully optimistic to assume he's going to morph into an average catcher (or even a passable one) after being essentially the worst in the game for the past two years*. Catcher is arguably the most important defensive position in the game; it seems like a bad policy to put the league's worst defender there.

*I know we can't say that with any certainty; measuring catcher defense is just too hard. But between the passed ball/wild pitch numbers, the framing numbers, and the plain old eye test, it seems all too reasonable to assume he's a bottom 3 catcher. At least he's decent at throwing out runners.

Based on the rumors percolating during the off season, it seems the Rockies may agree. They made significant plays for two free agent catchers, Carlos Ruiz and Brian McCann, before losing out to the Phillies and Yankees respectively. Additionally, there have also been a lot of rumblings about getting Rosario time at first base. Ostensibly that's to keep his bat in the lineup, but it might also be a program designed to groom him for life after catcher.

Since they missed on those free agent acquisitions, it appears that the Rockies will enter 2014 with the Baby Bull slated for the majority of starts behind the dish. That's fine. 2014 may or may not be a year in which the Rockies contend, but it'll be useful to learn what exactly they have in Wilin Rosario. His bat is obviously good enough to keep in the lineup full time; among catchers with at least 400 PA in 2013, Rosario had the ninth best wRC+ at 107. He's entering his prime years, and most projection systems are bullish (ha ha) on his hitting.

But it also feels like a make-or-break year concerning his skills behind the plate. Colorado pitchers need every bit of help they can find, and a solid defensive catcher is a major advantage. We need Rosario's defensive abilities to improve.

If they don't, the Rockies face a conundrum. At the moment, there is no replacement in-house. The current backups are Jordan Pacheco and Michael McKenry, who should be solid role players, but are by no means starter quality. They'll be the primary guys who play when Wilin needs a rest day, as all catchers do. This will be the setup for at least the first few months of 2014, and likely for the entire year.

However, much like how Jonathan Gray and Eddie Butler project to impact the starting rotation later this year, there's a AA catching prospect who might force an interesting discussion. The man in question is Tom Murphy. Murphy is a consistent figure among this off season's top 10 Rockies prospects lists, typically in the 6 to 8 range. He had a very solid 2013 with the bat in Low-A and AA ball, and is considered an average--maybe better--defender. If he continues his strong play in AA to start 2014, he may be ready to contribute in Denver before the year is over.

For what it's worth, ESPN prospect analyst Keith Law said this could be the case (admittedly in a very off-the-cuff manner, during an internet chat):

Keith_law_chat_medium

That sounds pretty awesome. Of course that would put the Rockies in a pickle regarding Rosario. The only other positions he could play (hopefully better that catcher) are first base and right field. The team already has too many players slated for those spots, between Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, Corey Dickerson, Drew Stubbs, and Charlie Blackmon. Perhaps Wilin could spell Morneau when a lefty is on the mound, but surely his bat is better than simply being a weak-side platoon partner.

While this might not happen during 2014, and you should never count your prospects before they've hatched, the Wilin Rosario question is nevertheless a difficult one. If he continues to cost the Rockies wins on defense, they're going to have to make a change; even if that means dangling him as trade bait. 2014 will be an interesting year for Wilin; hopefully the above perfect world scenario comes to pass.

LINKS


SOON

Ryan Spilborghs, a Rockie for parts of seven seasons, is retiring from baseball and joining the Root Sports broadcast team. My initial reaction was: awesome! Spilborghs was always a fan favorite due to his off-beat but effervescent personality, his obvious love for the game, and his kick-ass walk up songs. He should make a fantastic addition to the pre- and post-game show, and maybe (fingers crossed) he'll join the broadcast booth at some point.

But in reading the above-linked blog post on the Denver Post, my enthusiasm melted more towards melancholy. While I was selfishly looking forward to Spilborghs being on my TV in 2014, I didn't spare a thought to the fact that Ryan is retiring from the game he loves. Every athlete's dream is to become, if not the greatest, then among the upper echelon of their athletic pursuit. Ryan Spilborghs spent many years on a Major League roster, but he never cracked into a full time starting job (the most plate appearances he ever accrued were 393 in 2009). The last three years of his career saw a steady decline in production and opportunity, as he went from heavily-used 4th outfielder, to AAA depth, to a tour of the Japanese baseball league. He isn't calling it quits at 40 years old, after 20 years in the league, with plaudits and accolades. He's the same age as Michael Cuddyer.

Spilly achieved what 99.9 percent of kids who ever picked up a glove and dreamed of the big show would never achieve: he reached the big time. He played in a World Series. He has hit a walk-off grand slam. He's rubbed elbows with all-time greats, played in the cathedrals of Wrigley, Dodger Stadium, and Coors Field, and walked up to the plate with the cheers of 40,000 fans ringing in his ears. By most accounts, he has experienced the apotheosis of the American Dream.

And yet he has also heard the words, "you are not good enough anymore." We all hear those words at some point in our lives; eventually there are no more ladders to climb. Maybe the world passes you by, maybe age robs you of skills you once had, or maybe you just lose the passion to keep going. Spilly never lost that passion, even as the opportunities started dwindling sooner than he would have expected. Baseball is a cutthroat business, we hear it all the time, and no one can keep playing forever.

How would you feel if you were iced out of your chosen profession at the age of 35?


So we welcome Spilly aboard the 2014 Rockies experience, but now he'll be wearing a suit instead of a uniform. He'll be goofy, knowledgeable, vivacious, and charismatic. Best of luck to him in this new journey; I hope he loves doing it as much as we'll love watching him.






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