Twins 2018 Position Analysis: Left Field
Image courtesy of Butch Dill, USA Today (Eddie Rosario)Projected Starter: Eddie Rosario
Likely Backup: Robbie Grossman
Depth: Ehire Adrianza, Zack Granite, Nick Buss
Prospects: Alex Kirilloff, Akil Baddoo, LaMonte Wade
Rosario's approach at the plate improved by leaps and bounds in 2017. Just take a look at how the strikeout and walk rates compare to his previous major-league campaigns:
YEAR | K% | BB%
2015 | 24.9% | 3.2%
2016 | 25.7% | 3.4%
2017 | 18.0% | 5.9%
That walk rate still wasn't good by any means, ranking as the 26th-lowest in the majors, but it was a massive step up from his stagnant bottom-of-the-barrel marks during those first two campaigns. With his quick wrists and outstanding hand-eye coordination, Rosario has always been capable of putting the bat on almost anything thrown his way. But as the Baseball Prospectus Annual 2018 puts it, he "started learning to separate the pitches he can hit from those he should hit."
The result was a career-high .290 batting average despite a career-low .312 BABIP. He also slugged .507 with 27 home runs, surpassing his prior cumulative totals of .443 and 23. That might've had something to do with the juiced balls but also speaks to Rosario's highly impressive ability to drive scorching liners with authority from his 6'1", 180 lb frame.
And here's the best part: Rosario isn't necessarily done fine-tuning his approach. Keep in mind the kid is only 26, and coming off a revelatory year with a new hitting coach who seems to be getting through. If Eddie can get those K/BB rates trending further in the right direction, continued offensive growth may be yet to come. An enticing proposition for a player who finished with the third-best OPS+ on the team in 2017.
Even if those rates remain the same, simply gravitating back toward his .335 BABIP from 2015/16 could push Rosario's average past .300 and his OPS into the 900-range.
Finally tapping into his true potential at the plate as he enters his fourth MLB season, Rosario represents one of the biggest reasons to love Minnesota's offensive upside this summer.
While Rosario has mostly erased any doubts surrounding his outlook with the bat, he still has some work to do defensively. He possesses all the tools to be an excellent left fielder, but brazen aggressiveness continued to lead to questionable decisions that hurt the team in 2017.
Hopefully the more disciplined approach at the plate will carry to the outfield this year. Unfortunately, he hasn't had much chance to work at it this spring, with triceps tendinitis keeping him off the field for nearly two weeks. He finally returned to the lineup on Thursday, finishing 0-for-3 against the Rays as designated hitter, but there's no specific target date to get him back in the outfield.
Paul Molitor did mention that the outfielder came away from throwing sessions pain-free this week and the manager expects to see him back in left soon. If there are any setbacks or hiccups in Rosario's recovery, Robbie Grossman and Ehire Adrianza would likely consume the balance of reps in left field.
That's a major drop-off, both offensively and defensively, but it's not a disastrous fallback plan. In the event of a lengthier absence, Zack Granite would probably be called upon to fill in as a regular, likely providing superior glovework to Rosario with a good approach at the plate (albeit MUCH less power) and speed on the basepaths.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Though his arm ailment has kept him off the field for much of March, Rosario indicated on Thursday he is now throwing from 90 feet with no issue, so he should be back in the outfield soon and good to go by Opening Day. As things stand now, he is the present and future in left field, with a heightened floor and a lofty ceiling still within reach.
Down the line, Alex Kirilloff and Akil Baddoo stand out as the brightest hopes to potentially succeed Rosario, who's four years away from free agency (though many feel Kirilloff profiles better in right). In the shorter-term, one player to watch is LaMonte Wade. Twins Daily's No. 14 prospect has put his signature patience on display this spring; he drew his team-leading seventh walk on Thursday.
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