Rockies Catching Conundrum

The Colorado Rockies haven't had much go according to plan this season. One pleasant surprise this year has been the play of rookie catcher Wilin Rosario, who most thought would spell free agent acquisition Ramon Hernandez a few times a week while acclimating himself to the Majors. 

With Hernandez, who hasn't played more than 97 games since 2008, unable to stay healthy and on the field, Rosario has played the starter's share of the reps behind the plate. In 342 plate appearances, Rosario is hitting .249/.292/.517 (98 OPS+). With 23 home runs and 15 doubles to go along with his .292 On-base percentage in his rookie campaign, Rosario is playing about as well as most scouts and talent evaluators expected before the season.

That includes his poor defense. Rosario is leading the National League in passed balls with 19, which is even more than New York Mets catcher Josh Thole, who catches knuckleball pitcher R.A. Dickey. It's also the most in Rockies history.

Before the season, I ranked Rosario as the number three prospect in the Rockies system and former Baseball Prospectus prospect writer Kevin Goldstein ranked Rosario in the bottom half of his top 101 prospects. Keith Law, who does the prospect coverage for, left Rosario off his top 100 prospects list citing Rosario's defensive drawbacks as the reason for his omission.

Rosario's lacking defensive play isn't a new thing, it's something I heard a lot from scouts last winter and at Spring Training. I still ranked him high because of his bat and I don't regret it. In fact, when I was doing my Rockies prospect list before I went to Spring Training, I was more concerned with Rosario's approach at the plate (he doesn't take walks, 20 walks all season). Then, I got to Spring Training, and saw him catch. I watched him catch bullpens, simulated games, and even real official Spring Training games. I never once thought he was progressing defensively. "Strong arm, though," a scout said to me. It's true, he has a cannon and can throw you out from his knees. However, it doesn't mean he can catch.  

What is new is that Rosario recently played his worst game as a defender in the Majors last Sunday as he allowed four passed balls, two in the ninth inning, in the first game of a doubleheader. Now, the Rockies appear to be very concerned about Rosario's catching ability.  

Here's what Rockies Manager Jim Tracy had to say, courtesy of Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post. 

“It’s got to get better. It’s got to get a hell of a lot better,” Tracy said.

"Moving forward, we have to continue to massage this a little bit, because we certainly don’t what to get to the point where this becomes a mental issue, where you can create a real problem,” Tracy said. “The message has to be very clear that you can’t catch like that. You can’t. It put us in a bad spot in two games (in Philadelphia) that we had a chance to win. We have to be better than this moving forward.”

Clearly, the Rockies aren't happy with his defensive play, but I find these comments particularly interesting given Rosario's status in the organization. He may get overlooked, but Rosario is not only one of the better players on the team, he's also very young. He's the youngest player ever with a .500 slugging percentage in a Rockies uniform. 

That doesn't mean that Rosario is beyond criticism for his play, which at least defensively is obviously lacking. But, to publicly throw Rosario under the bus after a season that brought very few thrills confuses me. It wasn't Rosario's decision to be a starting MLB catcher at 23-years-old. The Rockies made that choice for him. Maybe the idea was that he'd study behind Hernandez for a year while working on his defense before becoming the starter in 2013, but it didn't work out like that because Hernandez can't stay on the field (which, as I mentioned earlier, has been the case for years).

In making Rosario the starter this year, the Rockies robbed him of time that could've been spent in Triple-A working on the development of his defensive skills. Now, they want him to pick those up on the fly in '13 after he's just proved he couldn't do that. 

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