Amed Rosario has the somewhat unfortunate distinction of breaking into the big leagues at a time when young star shortstops are in abundance across the league. Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa, Corey Seager—all three first round draft picks, all three debuting in 2015 and making a huge and immediate impact for their teams, and all three posting 15 WAR or more since. These were the types of expectations Amed Rosario—the fourth best prospect in the major leagues, according to Baseball America’s 2017 midseason rankings—was dealing with when he was promoted to the big leagues last season (with Dominic Smith soon to follow him), joining a floundering Mets team desperate for a spark.
His debut did not go how many Mets fans expected. Over 170 plate appearances as a Met, he walked just three times and struck out 49 times. He didn’t hit the ball very hard and he mostly hit it on the ground. He posted a 74 wRC+. However, it is hard to argue that he did not represent a significant upgrade defensively at shortstop. And he flashed some speed, as advertised, as well as some power, stealing seven bases and hitting four home runs and four triples.
This season, not much looks different on the surface. Rosario currently holds a 71 wRC+ over 130 plate appearances. He still isn’t walking much; he has walked just four times this year, compared to 30 strikeouts. He has only stolen one base. There seem to be many fans ready to declare Rosario a bust after just 83 games as a big leaguer at age 22 and I can already envision the “Amed Rosario is a disappointment” headlines coming.
However, there are reasons to be optimistic about Rosario’s development. Mets’ hitting coach Pat Roessler has seen a few encouraging things in Rosario’s numbers. Even though he is still striking out a fair amount, his chase rate is down from 45.5% to 39.3%. He’s making more contact overall (up to 72.8% from 67.3%) and more of that contact is hard contact; his hard-hit rate is up from 24.1% to 31.6%. His average exit velocity is up 5 mph from last season. Although the sample is small, Rosario has potentially been reaping the benefits of these small changes of late. He is hitting .379 in his last nine games, which include Tuesday night’s game, in which he smacked a go-ahead double, narrowly missing a home run, and collected three hits in total on the night.
“I am feeling much better,” Rosario said. “I’ve been working hard every day . . . I’ve been working on my approach and [control] of the strike zone.”
It’s showing. And batting ninth seems to have been very helpful in his success. Rosario has a 96 wRC+ out of the nine hole this year and a 0 wRC+ in his 34 plate appearances elsewhere in the order.
“I have no problem hitting in other spots, but I’ve taken more at-bats in the ninth spot and maybe that’s why I am more comfortable,” Rosario says about batting ninth. “I have seen a lot of better pitches this season than last year.”
For his part, Mickey Callaway is committed to keeping Rosario in the nine hole for now. “We kind of just committed to going ahead and leaving him in the nine-hole. There was a few games where, with the personnel we had, we thought maybe the seven-hole was the place for him and it just wasn’t working,” he said. “We said we’ll just stick him in the nine-hole and it seems like ever since then, he’s really relaxed and done a really good job there.”
It certainly helps that the Mets have a starting rotation that can handle the bat better than most.
On the defensive side of the ball, many have been hypercritical of Rosario’s few miscues in the field as he adjusts to pace of play at the big league level. These criticisms often lose the forest for the trees. Overall, Rosario has still been a massive upgrade defensively. While he still needs to work on getting to some balls in the hole, his range up the middle is a beautiful sight to behold and watching him make plays to his left is a joy.
In all of the discussions comparing Rosario to the Carlos Correas and Francisco Lindors of the world, what gets lost is that the league average wRC+ from the shortstop position in 2017 was 88. Considering his production from the nine hole so far this season and his defensive skills, Rosario does not have to be a world beater at the plate to be a very valuable player for the Mets.
Maybe when we look to the young uber-shortstops in hopes of what Rosario can be, we’re not looking in the right place. Instead, consider another first round draft pick first promoted to the major leagues last season: Dansby Swanson. Swanson and Rosario’s grades as prospects look eerily similar.
Over 144 games with the Braves, Swanson posted just a 66 wRC+ and was worth -0.1 fWAR. But the Braves did not declare him a bust and bury him on the bench. Instead, they let him go through his growing pains by continuing to play him every day, allowing him to develop at the big league level, as the Mets are doing with Rosario. And so far this year, early returns on that investment have been good. Swanson has improved dramatically and has already put up 1.0 fWAR in 2018.
If a more familiar comparison is more your style, consider Amed Rosario’s mentor, Jose Reyes. Reyes posted just an 80 wRC+ in his first full season as a Met in 2005. This was followed by a 5.7 fWAR season in 2006. Mets fans are intimately familiar with the player that Reyes became after his slow start in the big leagues—a great defensive shortstop with dynamic speed that was a fixture at the top of the Mets’ order for many years. Rosario obviously has a lot of work to do before he can get on base at the clip of a young Jose Reyes, but the 22-year-old’s best days in a Mets uniform are surely yet to come and I am excited for when they do.