On the heels of our two previous prospect reports (C, 1B) comes our look at second baseman Eddie Rosario. Rosario checks in at 3rd on our Consensus Prospect Rankings for the position and was in the discussion for 2nd as well. Second base in the minor leagues suffers from a similar disease as first base, although not quite to the same degree. Many major league second baseman were minor league shortstops or smaller (physically) outfielders. An additional difference between the positions is the obvious one: athleticism. It's not that you can't play second base without being a plus athlete (ask Dan Uggla), but it's harder to do, and teams are less willing to throw someone into the fire at the keystone than they are at first base. In that way, it's understandable that it is harder to create second baseman on the fly, and thus there would be at least a slightly deeper pool to pick from in the minor leagues. On the other hand, the offensive ceiling for the position is considerably lower, making depth a very big issue when it comes to fantasy. All of these things bring us back to Eddie Rosario; the former outfielder who is learning on the job at second base and hits the ball like it's done him harm, which - actually - it did when a BP line drive hit him in the face and he missed seven weeks of action this past season.
Drafted out of Puerto Rico in the 4th round of the 2010 draft, Rosario has been a find from day one. With a career average of .310 over 3 seasons in the Minnesota system, Rosario has proven he can hit and hit well. He's also proven to have above average secondary skills with a career lines of .362 and .538 in OBP and SLG respectively. Rosario absolutely decimated the rookie level Appy league in 2011 showing his strength by recording an astounding ISO (slugging minus batting average) of .316, his speed by swiping 17 bases and a discerning eye at the plate with a BB% of 9.1. Those skills all saw considerable drops as Rosario graduated to full season ball in his age 20 season, as Rosario's ISO fell to .186, his BB% dropped to 7.2, and his stolen base total dropped to 11 and worse yet, his rate was an unsightly 50%. So why does he still rank 3rd in our consensus rankings? Why will he crack every respectable Twins Top 10 list out there? Well, some drop off would be expected from a player having his first go at full season ball, plus the injury likely took it's toll in some shape or form. Additionally, despite the drop offs, those numbers (stolen bases aside) are not only reasonable, but good signs for the second baseman. A .186 ISO is nothing to look down your nose at, especially given the environment, as the Midwest League is not exactly hospitable for hitters and the general lack of power associated with the position. The decline in BB% is certainly not what one wants to see in a prospect, but if I can spin it for you, his 1.9% drop in BB% was accompanied by a 4% drop in K%, and when you can hit the ball like Rosario, more contact isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Scouting reports consistently talk up Rosario's feel for hitting, and while he has consistently produced strong slugging percentages, his swing portends more of a line drive approach and something in the vein of 15 home runs per year rather than 20. Rosario displays above average bat speed, and doesn't take long getting to the zone with a low set up. Most scouting reports however are more concerned with his defense, which is generally less interesting to fantasy managers. In this case however, it's worth monitoring closely. Rosario's two general options are second base (obviously) and centerfield. He spent 19 games in centerfield in 2012 compared to 67 at second base, so it's clear which way the Twins would prefer him to go. That aligns nicely with fantasy owners' wishes as well - as Rosario's skillet and likely numbers down the line stand out much more at second base than they do in the outfield. Rosario receives rough grades on his defense, as scouts question his arm, hands and range, though it's worth mentioning he has seen a total of 71 games there while in the minor leagues. His speed is merely average and while it can play on the basepaths, he needs to refine his technique in order to take advantage of it. It's not clear whether Rosario has the speed to stay in centerfield, which makes his failing at the keystone a tricky proposition. If he's not a second baseman and he's not a centerfielder, then he's unlikely to have enough bat to be a regular elsewhere.
When it all comes down to it, I think the Twins shoehorn Rosario into second base substandard defense or no, a la the Mariners and Dustin Ackley, because when it comes down to it, that is where is his offensively viable. To Ackley's credit, he greatly improved himself defensively, and Rosario has shown the work ethic at second to think that if not probable, improvement is at least possible. More work will be required for Rosario to prove even adequate at the position, and he will get that opportunity in Hi-A next year, as the Twins won't quit on him just yet. It may seem odd for someone with such a risk of not sticking at the position and thus losing much of his value to be considered so highly, but a bat like Rosario's isn't often seen at second base, and if he can make do defensively, he will be coveted in fantasy circles.
You can follow me on Twitter at @cdgoldstein