Tampa, FL – New York Mets fans are weathering heavy storms and there seems to be no sign of them letting up.
In the midst of news that Jose Reyes was returning to the fold, after a charge of domestic violence while with the Colorado Rockies, the team’s pitching problems suddenly got worse. The team announced that Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard have bone spurs, shuffling an already uncertain deck. Reyes' return certainly doesn’t quell the concern about the Mets' future. The Matz and Syndergaard news only added to the list of questions. The natural reaction for any team’s fans is to turn their hopeless gaze to the farm. And while there isn’t a ton of promise on the prospect front either, there are the glimmers, as there always are; those players in even the most tepid system that emerge in unexpected ways or rise to lofty expectations. File Amed Rosario under both categories.
His emergence is important not just for his skills, but for what the Mets desperately need in the near future. And it’s no small thing that with Reyes not being a long-term option, for many reasons, Rosario’s value is even higher. He means something to the organization that runs far deeper than just his playing ability. His 2016 season has unfolded as a showcase of what he’s capable of, and not just at the plate or defensively. There’s no way to quantify leadership, but, at 20, that’s becoming one of his strengths. For all the confidence his performance is inspiring, he has impressed those around him with his growing role as a team leader.
“This year has been big for him. I just think this has been one big grow-up year in terms of how to handle himself,” said Valentino Pascucci, hitting coach for the Mets' high Single-A team. “He’s seen basically as a leader here. When you get that role, obviously the spotlight’s on you a little bit and he’s handled that really well. He takes it as another part of the game. People are watching him, so he wants to perform every night. He wants to show people that he’s good, and live up to the number one prospect type-thing. He’s embraced the spotlight a little bit.”
The numbers indicate his comfort level at the plate. In 66 games with the High-A St. Lucie Mets, he got 82 hits with 10 doubles, 40 RBIs, and 27 runs. Last week, he was promoted to Double-A Binghamton. Making the big jump hasn’t been difficult yet: in five games with Binghamton he’s gotten seven hits and knocked in four runs. He’s also got a season total 14 stolen bases, and is considered to have plus speed.
He’s doing little things that are adding up to big success, like laying off pitches he can’t handle (“middle in,” said Pascucci). His hitting regimen is focused on narrowing down the couple of pitches he likes, what he knows he can hit, and specifying where on the field he likes to hit it.
Before a game early in June, scouts chimed in about the shortstop’s style of play at his position.
“He’s got a natural gift,” said one scout. “There’s not a lot of thought put into it.”
“One big thing about him on defense is he’s very aggressive. When he’s in position, he’s very alert and aware,” said another.
Later in the game, another factor stood out: His speed. In what looked like an easy grounder, Rosario legged it out to beat the throw to first. His ability to get there was impressive, but in the bigger picture it was his commitment to go full-force that signaled he regards leadership seriously. As easy as that play looked, he was going to try. He hustled for that seemingly hopeless hit.
That same attitude was clear to Pascucci early in spring training, when Rosario pulled Pascucci aside after batting practice. He wanted his coach to understand just how serious he was about learning.
“He came to me and said, ‘If you see something, let me know. I want to work on it,’” said Pascucci.
It’s been a process, he said, of Rosario applying what the coaches tried to impress upon him in 2015, when he was in the Florida State League for the first time, and played in 103 games, hitting .257/.307/.335. But there was some resistance, some struggle, with translating what he was being told to his game and at-bats.
“It’s been syncing in more. And he knows more of where his hot spots are and what the other pitchers are trying to do in certain situations,” Pascucci said.
In 2015, manager Luis Rojas saw glimpses of what was possible for Rosario. But he too witnessed the various parts not clicking. This year, all cylinders are firing.
“We knew he was going to get to the level he’s at right now,” said Rojas. “He had a couple of injuries last year, a couple of setbacks, We just keep reinforcing the approach. He’s refining his strike zone discipline and that’s been matching up with his tools.”
There’s always a tricky balance for coaches between letting young players find their own way, while offering guidance. When do you let up? When do you press? Coaches have said many times that the approach can depend on the individual. They observe what a player responds to. Even trickier, though, is getting the mental aspect to connect with the physical ability once they take the field. Rosario’s learning to trust his instincts, and also learning how to slow down the at-bat to fully grasp what a pitcher’s dealing. This has been most evident with situational hitting.
“If there’s a runner on second base, with nobody out, the pitcher might be trying to pitch him in or throw off-speed to hit a ground ball to the third base side. If he gets a pitch out over the plate, hit it to center field or right-center. He’s getting a base hit and then moving the runner over to third,” said Pascucci
Rosario’s making defensive adjustments based on who the hitter is, according to Pascucci. He’s studying the lineup, going into the game with an awareness of the pitcher’s tendencies. Defensive adjustment has been in the mix as well, as he’s learned to have a better plan for each hitter.
“We’ve really emphasized where his starting position is,” said Pascucci. The result, he said, is that Rosario’s making, “all the routine plays, and then makes some of the tough ones look easy.”
Rojas echoed Pascucci’s earlier observations about Rosario’s burgeoning leadership. “He wants to develop every aspect and that is something that’s also developing,” said Rojas. “He’s trying to understand what’s going on during the game, outside the lines, outside the field. I’m impressed with his leadership on and off the field. I’m really excited for the next few years to see what he does. I think he’s more than ready right now.”
While writing this story, the Mets announced that Brandon Nimmo would make his major-league debut. Nimmo came out of the gate in professional baseball solidly ready to take on the pressure of being a high-ranking prospect. His leadership was perhaps more natural. But like Rosario, a future Mets team to believe in could be on the horizon.
Rosario still has a ways to go before he joins Nimmo. But all signs point to the possibility of a new era.
“He’s just growing up. He’s starting to understand what all the coaches over the years have been telling him. And he’s applying that to all parts of his game,” said Pascucci.
Rosario’s drive is noted by his manager and coach, but so is his sense of self, his self-discipline, fostered by a strong foundation. Rojas, in part, credits his strong family background for why he’s so grounded. But it’s also Rosario’s passion to help the Mets rise up that’s driving him.
“He knows what the goal is. He wants to help the Mets win a World Series,” said Rojas.
As Mets fans wait for the storms to subside, and they turn their thoughts to Nimmo’s debut, they can also envision the possibility of Rosario.
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