FORT MYERS, FLA.
Eddie Rosario leaned against a fence in front of a dugout last week as other Twins minor leaguers went through fielding drills at the Lee County Sports Complex.
He still is rehabilitating a sore elbow. Even if he were 100 percent healthy, though, the highly touted infield prospect still wouldn’t be at Fort Myers, working out on the back fields. Rosario is idle, paying the price because, he said, “I made a mistake.”
Rosario is in the middle of a 50-game suspension for violating baseball’s drug policy. He confirmed in a conversation with the Star Tribune late last week that he smoked marijuana during the Arizona Fall League and failed a drug test soon after that. The momentum he had built as he moved up the minor league ladder has skidded to a halt.
“It’s tough,” he said. “I miss baseball bad.”
He won’t be able to join Class AA New Britain until the last week in May — rainouts keep pushing his return date back. Rosario, 22, was ranked as the sixth-best prospect in the organization by Baseball America and is one of the better-hitting prospects in the minors. He is considered a good contact hitter with the potential to hit for some power — he had 21 homers at rookie league Elizabethton in 2011. He batted .307 with a .358 on base percentage and .867 on base-plus-slugging percentage in four minor league seasons.
What he is missing out on is at-bats to further his development and move him closer to his major league debut.
Rosario said he is dealing with his poor decision. As soon as the Twins learned of the results, he was entered into the club’s employee assistance program, which provides the necessary counseling and other support to help players and staff who run into problems like Rosario’s.
“We will move past the suspension and get him ready to play so when he is eligible he will be ready to go,” said Rob Antony, Twins assistant general manager. “We don’t expect the elbow to be an issue and should be fine by the time he is ready to play in real games.”
Rosario, a fourth-round pick in the 2010 draft, batted .238 in the Arizona Fall League and .173 in the Puerto Rican winter league. Part of his struggles, he said, was knowing that he tested positive, with a suspension to come. He didn’t report to spring camp until April 12 — more than three weeks after minor leaguers reported — so he could deal with a personal matter at his home of Guayanna, Puerto Rico.
“It was a mistake,” Rosario said, “but it’s in the past.”
New Britain is 6-16 and in sixth place in the Eastern League’s Eastern Division. Rosario was scheduled to open the year with the Rock Cats after batting .284 with four homers and 38 RBI in 70 games there in 2013 following a midseason promotion from Class A Fort Myers. Not only that, but top prospects Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano were also headed to New Britain in what would have been a lineup gushing with top-end potential. But the team has been snakebit.
Buxton, a consensus pick as the top prospect in baseball, hasn’t played an inning because of a strained left wrist and is just beginning his return. Sano, considered one of the top power hitting prospects in the minors, is out for the season because of Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery.
The Twins’ plan to group these top prospects together will not materialize this season.
“We were certainly optimistic about it and certainly looking forward to those guys playing together,” said Brad Steil, the Twins director of minor league operations. “We thought it would be a good idea for all those guys to get a chance to play together, which they didn’t get to last year.”
It’s another example of what can happen — and potentially ruin — the path to the majors. Rosario knows that now as he waits for his season to start. He said his family — parents Eddie Sr. and Maria, and his wife, Milany — have helped him through a difficult time in his life.
“My family keeps telling me that the most important thing for me is my family and my work,” said Rosario, who has two daughters: Mileiddy, 4, and Raydieliz, 2. “And every day the Twins help me. I’m playing for my future. I’m good right now.”