Mets get glimpse of the Amed Rosario they’re going to need
Sandy Alderson announced last July that Amed Rosario was coming concurrently with announcing Addison Reed was going. That was no accident, of course.
The Mets wanted to change the subject from an abysmal 2017 season that had them selling Lucas Duda, Reed and eventually Jay Bruce and Neil Walker. The Mets needed a hook to sell both tickets and tomorrow.
Rosario seemed ideal for the role, a quick-twitch 2.0 version of Jose Reyes. He was hitting .328 at Las Vegas and MLB Pipeline ranked him the majors’ No. 2 prospect. Across the game, teams had pivoted younger and younger to imbue rosters not just with talent, but the energy, electricity and possibility that comes from youth.
But Rosario was not the instant defibrillator like Kris Bryant, Carlos Correa, Andrew Benintendi, Cody Bellinger and a procession of Yankees, most recently Gleyber Torres.
Rosario began Sunday’s game against Arizona with a career OPS 32 percent below the MLB average factoring in league and park. When he came to bat in the sixth inning, he had not homered since Aug. 27. Tommy Milone started for the Mets that day, Matt Reynolds was their right fielder, early that morning Eastern time Floyd Mayweather had beaten Conor McGregor. This year only three players had more at-bats without a homer than Rosario.
Clay Buchholz, who hadn’t pitched in the majors in 13 months and had failed even to make the Royal rotation out of spring, had shut out the Mets on one hit through five innings. Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo just wanted him to face the ninth-place-hitting Rosario to open the sixth in a righty-righty matchup before bringing in southpaw T.J. McFarland to face a Mets lineup with five lefties in the first six lineup slots.
But Buchholz hung a breaking ball, and Rosario homered to even the score 1-1. Then in the following inning, he followed a tie-breaking two-run pinch-hit homer from Asdrubal Cabrera with the hardest-hit ball of the Mets’ 4-1 triumph, a 109.5 mph dart that carried out to left-center.
“I feel amazing,” Rosario said. Imagine how the Mets would feel if this were a coming attraction.
The Mets have felt in an offensive holding pattern recently with Yoenis Cespedes and Todd Frazier on the DL and Jay Bruce trying to find his groove. But those are players in their thirties. They are vital. Still, the Mets are not going anywhere without a boost from a few 20-somethings.
Alderson has been criticized for his drafts, but this is an imperative period for many of his first-round picks. Brandon Nimmo is going to play regularly with Cespedes down and Juan Lagares out for the season. Michael Conforto will need to be a main man. Kevin Plawecki is due back in about a week. Dominic Smith is now dabbling with the outfield as a way to get back to The Show.
Rosario was not a first-round pick, but at 22 he is the youngest player on a Mets team that began Sunday with the fewest homers (10) and steals (5) by players under 30, at a time when more than ever teams rely on youth.
Mickey Callaway cited Rosario’s “raw power” and “raw speed.” But also that he is, well, raw, and the translation of his skills to games is yet to materialize. Ideally, Rosario would be at Triple-A for further refinement. But his defense is capable and the shortstop alternatives are Cabrera, Reyes or Luis Guillorme.
“I think [Rosario] can definitely be impactful,” Callaway said.
He knows what it looks like. As the Indians pitching coach he watched the precocious Francisco Lindor help lift the Indians to title contenders because his power/speed/defense portfolio played at a high level so quickly.
Rosario is not as advanced. We just get glimmers, like Rosario becoming the youngest Met with a two-homer game since Lastings Milledge in 2007. That should be a reminder that not every top prospect fulfills even the lowest bar — take a bow, Milledge, Alex Ochoa and Fernando Martinez.
But the Mets dream because Rosario has indisputable tools and, really, what is the alternative? They have not constructed a strong feeder system and, thus, they need Rosario, like right now.
For this was a weekend in which the Mets helped the Dodgers by sweeping the Diamondbacks and the Dodgers helped the Mets by sweeping the Nationals. That moved the Mets ahead of the Nats into third in the NL East, just 3 ¹/₂ back of the lead. Their further climb will need young talent.
In that group, Rosario is the most gifted. His future must start being now.
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