When he was traded to Cleveland in the Francisco Lindor deal, there were questions about how Amed Rosario fit in. Cleveland had also acquired Andrés Giménez in the deal and had a farm system loaded with middle infield talent. In the Cleveland top prospect list here on Pitcher List, there were three SS (Giménez, Tyler Freeman, and Brayan Rocchio) and a 2B (Aaron Bracho) in the top nine. Rosario was coming off a disastrous 2020 and had never lived up to the hype he had as a prospect coming up through the Mets system.
By Opening Day, Rosario had been the subject of a series of new trade rumors and Cleveland had moved him to the OF – filling a much more significant long-term need in the organization. By mid-May, Rosario wasn’t hitting and his defense in CF was not inspiring confidence. As of May 12, the day of his last start to-date in CF, Rosario had a 76 wRC+.
The next day, Rosario started at SS and it was the start of a run that would see Rosario take over as the everyday SS in Cleveland. Since May 13, he has a 105 wRC+. And there are reasons to believe he can continue to produce.
When a player has new results, one of the first questions I have is if there is a new process driving those results. It can be a good sign that the new production is based on an actual change vs. just a temporary upswing or lucky stretch.
Shortly after the trade, Joe Noga of Cleveland.com reported that Rosario was working on a new swing.
This offseason, he’s made trips to Los Angeles to work with hitting instructor Doug Latta, a former high school coach who is credited with turning Justin Turner’s swing around in 2014.
Rosario said his hitting mechanics are completely differently from what was working for him in 2019.
“They’re very different,” he said. “But the important part is that I’m feeling good with these mechanics. I’m putting them to practice and it’s just a matter of time will tell what are the outcomes.”
Let’s table those 2019 mechanics for a moment and compare what Rosario is doing in 2021 vs. his rough 2020. Here he is hitting a home run for the Mets in 2020:
And here he is hitting his first homer as a member of his new organization in 2021:
The most obvious difference is at the point the pitcher is releasing the ball:
In 2020, you can see his foot is off the ground with a pretty high leg kick. This is actually on the way down – his thigh was closer to horizontal a moment before this.
In 2021, that leg kick is gone:
Like, gone-gone. Slowing down and going frame-by-frame, I don’t believe his front foot ever lifts off the ground. He raises the heel and goes up on his toe, before planting the foot and unloading on the ball.
To see some of the smaller differences, let’s use two clips that give us a more similar view of Rosario’s stance and swing. The next sets of images come from plate appearances at Camden Yards, one of the few parks where Rosario has played in both 2020 and 2021 so far. Since Cleveland and New York have similar road looks, the easiest way to tell which clip is which is the batting gloves and elbow pad – both are red with Cleveland, but they’re blue and orange with the Mets.
Even before the pitch, you can see Rosario is a little more upright, has his hands a bit lower and further out in front of him, his stance is slightly more closed, and his head appears to be facing a bit more towards the pitcher.
Back to the release point, you can see that leg kick difference pretty clearly here, but there are other changes. In 2020, he is more “coiled” – his hands are further back, you can see more of his back and that leg kick has taken his front leg much closer to the plate than his back leg. He remains crouched down more in 2020, as well.
Comparison at the point of contact is a little tougher, since he is reaching for the pitch a bit with the Mets. His legs look relatively similar, though his front foot maybe pointing more towards the pitcher in 2021. The biggest difference to me is how much further he had to travel from where he was in the last shot to this one – to my untrained eye, his swing looks simpler and quicker, like he is able to get to the ball more easily.
The differences to 2020 are pretty stark, but remember Rosario said his mechanics are “very different” from what worked for him in 2019, as well. We looked at 2020 and 2021 homers; here is one from 2019:
At first glance, that looks a lot like 2021. At least more like 2021 than 2020. He is more upright and he has the heel raise rather than the leg kick. But it is not identical. To me, he looks a bit more upright in 2021 than 2019, for one thing. And while I don’t see a ton of other differences, I am inclined to believe there are changes I am missing, given his statement about the differences. That said, it certainly appears his reworked swing is bringing back some of what worked well in the past.
The new swing has brought with it some improved results compared to his rough 2020. His strikeout rate looks a lot more like his strong 2019. In fact, if you combine 2020 and 2021, it looks quite a bit like his 2019, in which he finished strong:
He’s brought down his strikeout rate by chasing less and swinging through fewer pitches, as both his chase rate and swinging-strike rate are career bests.
On top of that, when he makes contact, the contact is a lot better than it was a year ago.
His average and max exit velocity are better; his hard-hit rate is better; his xwOBA, xBA and xSLG are better, his strikeout and walk rates are better. The barrel rate is a lower percentile, but everything else looks good. And his barrel rate, hard-hit rate, and average exit velocity are all higher since he moved to SS full-time on May 13.
So his overall numbers on the year are improved vs. 2020 and they appear to be trending in the right direction. What drove that improved since early May? It’s possible that simply having a full-time position – and one he is comfortable with and doesn’t require him to learn on the job – has allowed him to focus on his hitting. Maybe it’s just the normal fluctuations of a season.
But go back to that quote from Rosario earlier in the article and you’ll notice he made a point of saying, “it’s just a matter of time will tell what the outcomes are.” Implementing a new swing is hard. So is moving to a new league, new team, and new position. There is an adjustment period and it certainly looks like Rosario has pushed through that and found success on the other side.
What to Expect
Even the new and improved Rosario, who looks a lot like the very good 2019 Rosario, is not going to single-handedly win you any fantasy leagues, but he brings some interesting stuff to the table. In 2019, he hit .287 with a .323 OBP, 15 HR, 19 SB, 75 R and 72 RBI. His 2021 looks very similar, with the slight caveat that if this new swing is still working its way into shape, there maybe a bit of upside left to tap into. Remember, this was a top 20 prospect just a few years ago and he is still only 25 years old. The possibility of a true breakout still exists.
He also seems to have established himself as the two-hitter in the Cleveland lineup, with 165 PA in that spot and no more than 42 in any other. In 2019, he split time between the seven and eight spots and the one and two spots, with a bit more time at the bottom of the lineup. That move should help him get more plate appearances. The fact that most of the plate appearances will come with José Ramírez and Franmil Reyes hitting behind him won’t hurt his run totals, either.
In traditional 5×5 leagues, Rosario should get you 7-8 more homers the rest of the way, with upside for 10-12. He is 7-for-7 on stolen bases this year and given that success rate, should continue to get the green light – look for him to steal 7-8 more bases, as well, but again there is upside for his first career 20 SB season. He’ll also hit for a solid average. He’s at .270 on the year so far, but .275-.280 the rest of the way seems plausible, and a big BABIP in the second half could shoot that up. His low walk rate will limit his run potential, but he has 39 runs already and I suspect he breaks 80 for the first time in his career, likely pushing closer to 90.
He won’t provide much in the way of RBI, thanks to a lack of power and hitting second in a lineup where the eight and nine hitters won’t be on base much, but he will provide enough across the other four categories to be useful.
In OBP leagues you have to knock him down a step and leagues that don’t use SB (like Ottoneu 4×4 leagues), that gets bumped down even further. If you need OBP and power, he isn’t your guy.
But if you are looking for some wheels, a solid average, and enough pop not to hurt, Rosario could be a good fit.
Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Aaron Polcare