FORT MYERS, FLA. – Wilin Rosario was 23 when he replaced Ramon Hernandez as the No. 1 catcher for the Colorado Rockies in 2012. He started 100 games behind the plate, hit 28 home runs with 71 RBI, and finished fourth in the NL’s Rookie of the Year voting, which was led by Bryce Harper.
Rosario started 103 games at catcher in 2013. Again, he produced power numbers, 21 homers and 79 RBI, and with a .292 average.
This wasn’t a big surprise. In 2011, Wilin was rated as the No. 21 prospect in the minors by MLB.com. In January 2014, it appeared a long and lucrative big-league career awaited this husky young catcher from the Dominican.
That wasn’t the case with Eddie Rosario, then a 22-year-old the Twins had drafted out of Puerto Rico in the fourth round in 2010. He had ripped up Class A Fort Myers and succeeded at Class AA New Britain.
My son, Mr. Baseball, and I had been in Arizona in November 2013 to watch the Twins’ prospects in the Fall League. Mostly, we wanted to see the center fielder, Byron Buxton, but there was also curiosity over the right side of infield for the Glendale Desert Dogs: Eddie at second base and Max Kepler at first.
Eddie’s quick hands were unmistakable. Then came the news in early January that he had received a 50-game suspension for testing positive for a “drug of abuse.” He had been popped for inhaling marijuana — twice.
Wilin was the No. 1 catcher for Colorado again in 2014, starting 94 games, and hit 13 home runs and hit .267. Eddie returned from his suspension and batted .237 in 79 games at Class AA New Britain.
Wilin was arbitration-eligible and received a $2.8 million contract for 2015. Meantime, there was speculation Eddie could be had from the Twins.
That wasn’t the view of Eddie’s future from Doug Mientkiewicz, then a winning manager in the Twins’ minor leagues. “Eddie Rosario is the best hitter in the Twins organization, Triple-A on down,” Mientkiewicz said.
Doug, he batted .237 in Double-A? “He was bored,” Mientkiewicz said. “He knew he didn’t belong there. He knows he’s a big-league hitter.”
In Colorado, the decision was made that Wilin’s receiving issues made it impossible to continue with him as a No. 1 catcher. He played mostly first base and spent half of 2015 in the minors.
LaTroy Hawkins, now a Twins special assistant, pitched with the 2014 Rockies.
“I had no trouble with Wilin as my catcher, mainly because I called my own game,” Hawkins said. “Most of the other pitchers, though … they complained a lot about him as a catcher.”
Hawkins was on the back fields at the Twins’ complex last week. Wilin Rosario was playing first base for Class AAA Rochester in an exhibition. The Twins had signed him as a minor league free agent after he spent three seasons in Far East baseball (two in Korea, one in Japan).
“I was a free agent after 2015 and could not get a major league offer,” Wilin said. “I enjoyed Korea, and Japan, too. My family enjoyed it, too. But it was time to stay home. And Jeremy Zoll … he was my man. He was very positive for me getting a chance here.”
Zoll is the Twins minor league director. Asked if Wilin would have a job in Rochester to open the season, Zoll’s response was: “Rosters will not be finalized until major league camp breaks.”
Such drama is long in the past for Eddie Rosario. Mientkiewicz’s statement of four years ago stands: Rosario, now 27, a veteran of 500 big-league games, is the best hitter in the organization. Period. And he has become a calm and confident presence on a much-changed roster, the No. 4 hitter behind Nelson Cruz.
A year ago, he could have been an All-Star, slipped some in August, then missed much of September because of a quad injury. This winter he worked on adding strength that could turn to durability. “A year ago, I got a little tired,” Eddie said. “Not this year.”
The two Rosarios passed in baseball’s ether in 2016, Wilin headed for Korea, Eddie headed back to Minnesota to stay. Now this spring, they have been a few hundred yards apart but separated by light years in the baseball universe.
Unpredictable game, this baseball.