Wilin Rosario was really good in 2012. There aren't many 23-year-old catchers who can hit 28 home runs and slug .530 anywhere in the world, let alone at the big-league level. In addition, the bulky backstop threw out 32 percent of attempted base stealers, a figure that was five percent more than league average.
Unforunately, there were passed balls. And more passed balls. And even more passed balls. Runners advanced as a result of Rosario failing to adequately block pitches in 21 occasions, three more than any other catcher in baseball. And that's not including any number of the 63 wild pitches thrown by Rockies hurlers while he was behind the plate that could have been ruled the other way.
Heading into 2013, it was clear what Rosario needed to do to become an elite catcher. He showed tremendous power at the plate as a rookie and, on multiple occasions, made eye-opening adjustments at the plate, possessing the ability to turn what would likely become horrendous at-bats early in counts into opposite-field doubles.
He just needed to improve on defense.
Rosario, for the most part, did just that in 2013. He was dinged by Fangraphs' positional and fielding adjustment, as it's accounted for in fWAR, in a huge way for his defense in 2012 but rated out positively there in 2013. That's a start. Also, Rosario allowed only nine passed balls, which was still tied for most in the league but was a drastic improvement over the previous year. But, how much of that was due to the Rockies' improved pitching staff? Colorado hurlers uncorked nearly 100 wild pitches in 2012, a number that was by far the most in baseball. In 2013, Rockies pitchers limited that number to 62 -- still high, but not astronomical and only the 11th-most in the league.
It's fair to say that the Rockies' awful staff in 2012 contributed to Rosario's defensive woes, but those woes still exist. And he actually regressed in an area that he owns a little bit more exclusively, and that's in the caught stealing department. Rosario threw out only 19-of-53 would-be base-stealers, good for 26 percent -- one percentage point below league average.
*Fangraphs' positional/fielding adjustment (used for calculating fWAR).
With all of that information taken into account, plus his still-weak advanced defensive metrics (Rosario was seven runs below average in Baseball-Reference's Total Zone Runs Saved metric after finishing at minus-8 last year), I'm inclined to say that his defense isn't a whole lot better than what it was in his rookie year. Not enough to get too excited about either way, at least.
But, boy, the kid can hit. However, did he do it as well as in 2013 as he did in his rookie season?
Rosario was red-hot for most of April, finishing the month with a .350/.373/.650 line and seven home runs. And that was after he hit .309/.356/.560 with 12 homers over the final two months of 2012. It looked like Rosario had figured out big-league pitching, but then the month of May happened. Most of Colorado's players were terrible that month, and Rosario was probably the poster boy for the team's struggles. He hit just .180/.223/.270 and looked like he was wearing down after playing in 45 of the team's first 55 games.
Fortunately, that was about the extent of Rosario's slumping. He bounced back to hit .317/.337/.527 through August until struggling through a final month of the season during which he was dealing with injuries.
So, in all, it was a pretty good offensive season for Rosario. Especially if May didn't exist. He finished the year with a 107 wRC+, just two points fewer than his 2013 total. Rosario hit seven fewer home runs but sprinkled in a few more doubles and added 22 points to his batting average, ending with a final line of .292/.315/.486. While that's not quite as good as what Rosario did in 2012, I'll certainly take that kind of offensive production from a 24-year-old catcher.
However, there is one flaw in particular that Rosario needs to address in order to avoid similar regression in future seasons. Take a quick guess at how many walks Rosario drew from July 4 through the end of the season.
If you guessed one, you are the winner.
Rosario went 0-for-3 with a walk against the Brewers on July 26 and did not draw a free pass for the rest of the season. In case you're wondering, that's a post-Independence Day walk rate of 0.005. Yep, a half-percent walk rate. Prior to July 4, Rosario was drawing walks 5.2 percent of the time, which is a bit less than the rate at which he walked in 2012. The terribly impatient second half from Rosario resulted in a 3.2 percent base-on-balls rate for the season. Among players who had at least 450 plate appearances, only two -- A.J. Pierzynski and Alcides Escobar -- posted a worse figure in 2013. That's not exactly what you want to see from a power-hitting youngster.
The good news is that Rosario's low walk rate didn't result in much of an increase in strikeouts and certainly didn't diminish his quality of contact. Rosario's line drive rate went up by five percent, which helped bolster his BABIP and resulting batting average.
Rosario's all-encompassing rWAR of 2.3 was a couple of points higher than that of his rookie season and ranked seventh among catchers in the National League.
Grade with the Rockies: B
Greater sophomore slumps have happened, and Rosario was one of the few core members of the Rockies to remain healthy for most of the season. He's just entering his prime, and a couple of 25- to 30-homer seasons are on the horizon.
The Rockies are entertaining the idea of bringing 34-year-old former Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz into the fold, which would, in a way, help to solve the Colorado's offensive void at the first base/right field position. However, Rosario hasn't looked good in minimal time at first base and I can't imagine a scenario in which he's close to passable in the outfield, so helping him improve his game behind the plate would suit the team better. Ruiz is only two years removed from a .325/.394/.540 line, but he is tainted by a performance-enhancing drug suspension and hit just .268/.320/.368 in 341 plate appearances in 2013.
Rosario has the quickness and athleticism to stick behind the plate, and even if he doesn't get much better, the quality of his bat right now will make the issue a lot less of a concern, and that's not even counting the probable improvement he'll see offensively over the next few years.