FORT MYERS, FLA. – Eddie Rosario is 23 and a rookie in Twins spring training with an outside chance to make the team as the starting center fielder. Lyman Bostock was 24 when he came to Twins spring training as a rookie in 1975 and with owner Calvin Griffith’s support to be the center fielder.
Rosario is listed at 6-1, 180 pounds, and so was Bostock. Rosario hits lefthanded and so did Bostock. Rosario offers excellent speed and moments of power, and so did Bostock.
When I see Rosario moving around near a batting cage at the Twins’ complex in Fort Myers, it takes me back four decades to seeing a rookie Bostock at Tinker Field in Orlando.
Bostock was a hungry kid who was raised by his mother and attended high school in South Central L.A. He had no relationship with his father, Lyman Bostock Sr., yet he was dedicated to succeeding as a ballplayer, as did his father in the 1940s in the Negro Leagues.
Asked why he lasted until the 26th round in the 1972 draft, Bostock said: “They heard I had a bad attitude. They were wrong.’’
Rosario comes from Guayama, a town on a rocky coast of Puerto Rico and known on the island as the “City of Witches.’’ According to lore, the name stems from the fact that a century ago, Guayama’s baseball team had a pitcher (Marcelino Blondet) thought to have special powers because he was the son of a medicine man.
It’s complicated. So is Eddie Rosario.
Rosario has run into disciplinary problems with members of the Twins’ organization. He has twice failed drug tests, the second of which led to a 50-game suspension to start the 2014 season.
This has led to suggestions that Rosario has a bad attitude. They could be wrong.
“I had no trouble with Eddie,’’ Doug Mientkiewicz said. “He always played hard for me.’’
Mientkiewicz managed Rosario for a total of 50 games in 2013 and 2014 at Class A Fort Myers.
“I love Rosario,’’ he said. “He can play center field. He can play second base, too. And he’s the best hitter in our system.’’
Mientkiewicz has moved up to manage the Twins’ new Class AA affiliate, the Chattanooga Lookouts. He doesn’t expect to be managing Rosario again this season.
He said that Rosario is ready for a higher level — and not necessarily Class AAA Rochester. He said Rosario is ready for the big leagues, as in Opening Day, 2015, ready.
Skeptics will note that Rosario batted .237 with a paltry on-base percentage of .277 in 79 games at Class AA New Britain last season. How do you turn that into Rosario being in center field for the Twins on April 6 in Detroit?
“I don’t want to put numbers on him,’’ Mientkiewicz said. “You just have to challenge Eddie. If he’s challenged, there’s not a lot he can’t do.’’
The idea of the Twins going with Rosario over both perpetual prospect Aaron Hicks and veteran Jordan Schafer wouldn’t seem remote, if not for the setback of Rosario’s failed drug test during the Arizona Fall League in 2013.
The announcement of a 50-game suspension came on Jan. 4, 2014. He didn’t get in a game until May 29, for Mientkiewicz’s club in Fort Myers. He played eight games there and then went to New Britain.
“It was very tough for me to be back home in Puerto Rico after Fall League, knowing about the test and what was coming,’’ Rosario said. “It was tough in the spring that my friends were playing and I could only work out.’’
One friend was Kennys Vargas, a fellow Puerto Rican. While Rosario was trying to get his full game back after the suspension, Vargas was powering his way to an Aug. 1 debut with the Twins.
“We played winter ball together in Puerto Rico, and in the minors,’’ Vargas said. “Eddie is good at everything.’’
Can he play center field? “Oh, yes,’’ Vargas said. “He runs down the ball. He throws great.’’
Vargas is a huge, gregarious man. Rosario is the opposite, average in stature and quiet.
Yet, when you mention center field, the response is similar.
“That’s where I always played; that’s where I played my first two years with the Twins,’’ Rosario said. “I like second base, too, but center field is my favorite position.’’
He looked for a long moment for emphasis and said: “It is my best position, too. [Manager] Paul Molitor told me at TwinsFest, I will be playing center in spring training.’’
Rosario has the look of Lyman Bostock, a .311 hitter in his short career in the majors. Does he have the drive? The exhibitions start March 5. The Twins have a month to decide.
Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500.