John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Amed Rosario's strong second half convinced the Mets to scrap any notion of experimenting with him in center field, but it hasn't quite convinced scouts of his long-term viability at shortstop -- especially with a couple of top prospects in the organization.
As such the 2020 season seems to loom as crucial for Rosario's future in Queens.
After all, in Andres Gimenez and Ronny Mauricio, the Mets have two young shortstops ranked in the Top 100 prospects lists by MLBPipeline.com, Baseball America, and Keith Law/The Athletic. And Gimenez is getting close, likely to start the season in Triple-A.
Whether he'll hit enough to be an impact player seems to be in question, but Gimenez is considered a much better defensive shortstop, so Rosario is probably going to have to show that he can build on his 2019 finish offensively to hold on to his position over the next few years.
At least that's the consensus opinion of scouts and executives around the game that I spoke with during the offseason.
"Rosario improved in all areas over the second half but he's still slightly below-average defensively," one scout said. "He's gotten better at reading balls off the bat, (but) he still puts himself in awkward positions at times with his movements that lead to errors or keep him from making plays he should make."
Rosario improved defensively as well as offensively in the second half, but he still committed 17 errors -- the third-highest total in the majors. And various defensive metrics rank him near the bottom among all shortstops.
"Gimenez is smoother, with more natural shortstop actions," a second scout said. "He could make the Mets better defensively right now, but the bat isn't there yet. He has a slight frame but he's only 21. He needs to get stronger and mature physically if he's going to hit big-league pitching."
Gimenez's offense became more of a question mark after his Double-A season in 2019, as he hit .250 with a .695 OPS, but then he flashed the potential that has earned him top prospect status by leading the Arizona Fall League in hitting with a .371 average and a .999 OPS over 18 games.
"He has shown the ability to adapt at each level when he gets enough reps," the first scout said. "He hit better at Double-A in the second half last year, and then he did well in the AFL. It's an encouraging sign that he'll continue to improve."
As for Mauricio, he's only 18, turning 19 in April, and scouts are very high on his offensive potential. But because he's 6-foot-3 and expected to eventually fill out to 200 pounds, there is some question about whether he'll be able to stay at shortstop as he matures physically, or be moved to third base.
Of course, it's worth remembering that Rosario is still only 24, and not turning 25 until November, so there is reason to believe he'll continue to improve as he did last season, when he hit .319 in the second half with an OPS of .805.
At the same time, scouts/execs made the point that they are very curious to see what Rosario does in 2020, in part because he now has 1,417 plate appearances in the big leagues since being called up in 2017, meaning he may be close to a finished product as a hitter.
And partly because some relevant statistics raise questions about just what Rosario's second half revealed about his progress.
"His hard-hit rate actually went down in the second half," one exec said. "And his chase rate went up. His walk rate went down. Those kinds of things make you wonder if he just hit in good luck, but then you look and see that his strikeout rate went down, too, because he was very aggressive attacking pitches in the strike zone, which is important.
"He's never going to have great plate discipline that will lead to a high on-base percentage, but he can be a good hitter if he's aggressive in swinging at strikes, giving him a chance to drive the ball to the gaps so that his speed becomes a factor.
"Obviously he's a plus-runner, but he's not really a good base-stealer, so you'd really like to see him be able to drive the ball and be an extra-base hitter. He seemed to make progress in that area but if you're the Mets you really want to see where that all leads to this year.
"If he's impactful with the bat, they can live with his defense at short. If he's not, I could see them going with Gimenez there in another year, if he's ready."
Other evaluators generally agreed with that assessment, noting that while Rosario cut down on his errors in the second half last season, they still see the potential for costly hiccups defensively.
One scout recalled costly misplays in a late-August series at Citi Field that contributed to the Mets getting swept by the Cubs in the heat of the wild card race, in particular a decision to try to rush to turn a slowly-hit ground ball into a double play -- resulting in a hurried throw wide of second that led to a big inning against Noah Syndergaard.
"He's got to know he can't turn two there, so you make sure to just get the out at second," the scout said. "That comes down to having a feel for the position. I hate to downgrade him because I like the way he plays the game, and he'll make a lot of plays with his athleticism, but he may not ever have the instincts you want there.
"Then again, if he hits .320 for a full season, I'm guessing you won't notice the flaws nearly as much."