Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Twins Next Breakout Star

Baseball is an incredibly difficult sport to play, and it may be even more difficult to predict what may take place over the course of a 162 game season. In 2014, the Minnesota Twins saw breakout performances at both the minor and major league level. Arguably no minor leaguer was more impressive than Jose Berrios, and Danny Santana took the title on the major league side. As 2015 rolls around, another position player looks to follow in Santana's footsteps at Target Field.

Eddie Rosario is without a doubt the name to watch. Progressing initially through the Twins system in the infield, more specifically second base, Rosario has since transitioned to patrolling the outfield. Over his five minor league seasons, Rosario has played 413 games, and split that almost right down the middle between the infield and outfield (204 games at second base and 209 games in the outfield). Playing left field in the Arizona Fall League, and center field for 50 games in 2014, Rosario is settling into his new home. Just because he is getting comfortable doesn't mean he's ready for the leap, but the additional details suggest that may be the next step.

Last season, Rosario spent the beginning of the season sitting on the sidelines, as he was suspended 50 games for use of a recreational drug. Missing time out of the gate, Rosario got off to a less than typical start, and struggled to the tune of a .237/.277/.396 slash line in 79 games with Double-A New Britain. Owning a career line of .294/.343/.485 across five minor league seasons, there's no doubt that the missed time hampered his performance. With the issues behind him, and coming off of a very strong performance to end the season in the Fall League (.330/.345/.410 18 RBI 10 SB 2 3B in 12 games), Rosario is trying to vault himself forward in major league spring training.

With the Twins having played six games in the Grapefruit League, Rosario has seen plenty of playing time, getting reps in five of those contests. Earlier this week, he hit his first home run of the spring, and he already has a double to his credit. Playing almost exclusively in left field, it's pretty apparent where the Twins see him contributing at the next level. Now the question becomes, when does the jump happen?

In 2014 Santana made his debut with the Twins on May 5, just under a month into the season. A player that the Twins probably don't have to worry about when it comes to Super 2 designations, Santana was given a quick promotion and immediately slid into the center field role vacated by Aaron Hicks. Minnesota had a hole in the outfield, and Santana was the option they chose. Prior to his promotion, Santana batted .241/.287/.343 across his first 27 games in the minors. After reaching Target Field, he went on to hit .319/.353/.472 for the Twins across 101 games. The numbers at the plate were ballooned by a BABIP (batting average on balls in play) over .400, but the output was still impressive. Now suggesting Rosario is the next prospect to take the leap, where does that leave us?

Prior to his suspension and down season last year, Rosario had twice appears on the top 100 prospects list by Baseball Prospectus (both in 2012 and 2014). His minor league numbers are vastly superior to Santana's, and his upside is arguably higher as well. Minnesota is set to start the season with Oswaldo Arcia and Torii Hunter flanking Hicks in the outfield, with Jordan Schafer as the fourth option. Should Minnesota choose to give the big league club a boost, finding a place for Rosario early could be the best option. Hicks might be the player that things depend on, considering Schafer would need to be designated off the Twins roster.

No matter who cedes time however, getting Rosario to contribute at the major league level should be an early goal of the Twins. Like Santana before him, expecting an impressive output from the get go would not be a far-fetched idea.

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