Six weeks into his third major league season, the talk surrounding Amed Rosario has understandably focused on his unraveling defense. His play at shortstop is worthy of concern, but it overlooks a major development for the young shortstop: Rosario can hit.
Rosario has struggled mightily with the bat for the bulk of his career, putting up just a .647 OPS across his first calendar year in the major leagues. His poor plate discipline was practically legendary, with a walk rate under 2% his rookie year that would have ranked him dead last in the majors if he had enough plate appearances to qualify.
Something shifted for Rosario, though, around the start of August last year, and has continued into this year. He has seen bumps in his numbers across the board—in batting average, on base percentage, and slugging, but they all come down to one key adjustment: quality of contact.
Between 2018 and 2019, Rosario has gone from the bottom third of the league to the top third of the league in exit velocity, while also boosting his line drive rate and lowering his soft-hit rate and his pop-up rate. He is by no means a slugger, but even without significant improvements in his walk rate or strikeout rate, he has worked his way up to a league average batting line, no small achievement for a 23-year-old.
Over his last 395 plate appearances dating back to August 1, 2018, Rosario has hit .284/.321/.418 with eight home runs, 19 stolen bases, and a 103 wRC+. His batting average on balls in play over that span is .349, a high number, but not an unsustainable one given his profile and speed.
The piece of his offensive game still stumping Rosario is his baserunning. The 19 stolen bases are excellent, but he’s been caught stealing seven times over that same span. Rosario is tied for the 13th-fastest sprint speed in the major leagues per Statcast, so his issues are largely in terms of selecting his spots to run and in sliding effectively, both of which are frustrating but fixable problems.
Of course, Rosario’s newfound comfort at the plate doesn’t absolve him entirely of his defensive woes, which place him at the bottom of the league for shortstops. The one-time defensive whiz has been struggling so consistently that many have suggested he take a breather in the minor leagues. But whether or not that environment could address the mental nature of his missteps is up for debate, and with him showing marked improvement as a hitter, the team should be wary of any moves that could get him out of his much-needed rhythm.
On the contrary, with Rosario hitting with more confidence than ever, allowing him to thrive in this regard could offer just the psychological boost he needs to settle down on the field. If he can learn to hit, surely re-learning how to field is within his reach.