In the summer of 2014, a visitor to Fort Myers, Fla., could see the Twins’ best young player — as well as Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, Jose Berrios and Jorge Polanco.
Sano and Buxton were recovering from injuries. Berrios pitched a gem as he established himself as the franchise’s best pitching prospect. Polanco made spectacular plays at shortstop as the team’s brain trust debated whether he belonged at short or second base.
At that time, Buxton was baseball’s top “prospect,” meaning the player with the most encouraging upside. Sano ranked near the top. Berrios and Polanco were drawing increased attention.
Also on the diamond at Hammond Field that week was a skinny kid who had signed with the Twins as a second baseman but was spending time in the outfield. A couple of influential members of the organization said, privately, that the kid was bullheaded but talented. One suggested the Twins should trade him.
The kid’s name was Eddie Rosario. He was not the Twins’ best prospect. At this moment, he is their best young player. Rosario leads the team in home runs, OPS (on-base-plus-slugging percentage), slugging and RBI. Last year, he tied for the team lead in slugging while hitting 27 home runs and looking comfortable leading a team in a playoff race.
Rosario’s rise is instead a reminder of how difficult player evaluation is, and how subtle talents can outstrip obvious assets.
Sano is one of the most powerful hitters in baseball. Buxton might be the game’s fastest runner and best-fielding outfielder. Berrios remains a potential ace. Polanco, before being suspended for performance-enhancing drugs, was hinting at outpacing all projections.
It is Rosario — the shortest, slightest and most overlooked of the Twins’ heralded prospects — who has become the most durable and productive player of the group. And maybe the smartest.
Monday night, Rosario displayed his most prominent gifts. He used his quick hands to launch a double. He made a game-ending catch while running into the left field wall. And on third with the Twins up one in the eighth inning, he reacted to a pop-up to short center by taking a lackadaisical step, lulling the center fielder to sleep, then breaking for home and scoring, standing up, when the center fielder finally reacted.
That might have been the most intuitive baserunning play by a Twins player in such a situation since the time in July 1996 in Baltimore, when current Twins manager Paul Molitor scored the winning run on a wild pitch that did not travel more than 3 feet from home plate.
Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey came to the Twins from Cleveland. General Manager Thad Levine came from Texas. Levine said Rosario ranked among the young players who made the Twins jobs attractive to the duo.
“The Rangers tended to attract players like Eddie, players who had the ability to throw a guy out at the plate and hit a triple in the same game,” Levine said. “The sky is the limit in terms of their ability and maybe you pay a little less attention to what the floor is in that situation. He’s a highly athletic and instinctual baseball player who can really dazzle you.”
Rosario offers fielding range, an accurate arm and surprising power. Twins broadcaster Dick Bremer compares Rosario’s hands to Rod Carew’s, and Bremer is friends with Carew.
“When I first worked with [Rosario], he was at second base,” Molitor said. “He was even slighter then. But he has skills, and he had a ballplayer’s mind-set.”
Ah, intangibles. They matter only when combined with talent, but they matter. Rosario has played with passion and aggressiveness. He might have been bullheaded, but for athletes, stubbornness often isn’t far removed from resolve.
The Twins expect Rosario’s aggressiveness to produce the occasional mistake in the outfield or on the bases. He might even swing at a pitch a foot out of the strike zone.
His production and gamesmanship have outstripped his perceived and former flaws. He has displayed old-school savvy and earned the most old-school of compliments:
Eddie Rosario is quite the ballplayer.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MNSPN.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib