This spring, 25 Twins have come to the plate 10 or more times. Of those players, one has a particularly impressive stat line:
- .429 batting average (second among the sample, behind Max Kepler)
- .478 on-base percentage (second, behind Kepler)
- 1.000 slugging percentage (first), including 3 home runs (first)
- 1.478 OPS (first)
These numbers do not belong to a slugging first baseman or heart-of-the-order designated hitter, but to non-roster invitee Adam Rosales, a career .226 hitter who has only twice played more than 100 games in a season. Who on earth is he... and what does his spring mean?
This year’s crop of Twins’ non-roster invitees includes a mix of established veterans, journeymen, and budding prospects. Rosales is a veteran backup, a 35-year-old infielder who made his major league debut in 2008. His longest stretch with one team began when the Athletics acquired him in February 2010 until they designated him for assignment in 2013. That year was notable for Rosales for two reasons: he hit a game-tying home run that Ángel Hernández incorrectly ruled a double after review, costing the A’s a chance to win, and he was designated for assignment three times in 11 days, each time by Oakland or Texas.
While mostly a reserve, Rosales played in 105 games in both 2016, for the Padres, and 2017, split between the A’s and Diamondbacks. Last year, as an Indians September call-up, Rosales played in just 13 games.
Statistically, Rosales fits the profile of a light-hitting utility infielder. Baseball-Reference grades him as a slightly above-average (1.9 offensive bWAR) career hitter despite his low average, OBP (.291), and slugging (.365 with 48 career home runs, Ángel Hernández notwithstanding).
While spring statistics may not mean everything (sorry, Ryan LaMarre), they certainly mean something, and Rosales’ hitting spree suggests that he isn’t finished as a professional baseball player. Setting aside the question of whether Rosales has any realistic chance at making the team for about two paragraphs, his impressive spring makes it more likely that he lands with a team somewhere, at least receiving a cameo appearance or two during the MLB season. But if he were to make the opening day roster, it would not be a first-time occurrence: in 2016, the San Diego Padres, after signing Rosales to a minor-league contract, saw him make the opening day roster and play in a career-high number of games.
Rosales also has the advantage of versatility, having seen regular time at all four infield positions (though less at first base) during his career. He’s also pitched twice, and position players who pitch are always fun to watch. Of course, teams are always looking to get younger, and Rosales’ age works against him, but age is still a secondary factor to talent.
As stated above, Rosales profiles as a utility infielder with a better glove (2.6 career defensive bWAR) than bat, a role currently filled by Ehire Adrianza. If he’s to make the roster, Adrianza is his main competition.
So does Rosales have a chance to win a coveted roster spot? Assuming a direct battle for a single spot, let’s compare.
Both are light-hitting infielders who have maintained a MLB career with their versatility. Adrianza has a slightly higher batting average and OBP (.242 and .303, respectively) than Rosales, but a lower slugging percentage (.355). Using Baseball-Reference’s dWAR, Rosales grades out as the better defender (2.6 over 11 years versus 0.9 over six years).
While Rosales’ stats have stood out, Adrianza has also been active at bat, hitting .400 in 20 spring at-bats. He has not shown as much power, though, with three doubles and a triple against Rosales’ three doubles and three home runs.
This is the obvious difference when comparing the two players. Adrianza is 29 (turns 30 in August) and Rosales 35 (turns 36 in May). The closer the two players compare on the field and in statistical categories, the more important their age will be in the team’s decision.
Adrianza is on a one-year deal worth $1.3 million. Rosales received a minor league deal worth $1 million, but with an additional $250K worth of incentives.
Rosales has showed that he can still play baseball. Will it be for the Twins in 2019? While the Twins have had non-roster invitees make the opening roster in each of the past two years (LaMarre, Chris Gimenez), his numbers might not be enough. Twins general manager Thad Levine spoke positively of Adrianza at last August’s Baseball Prospectus Night, always a positive sign for a player’s future with a team. Thus, my answer to the question in the title is: probably not.
I won’t say Rosales is completely out of luck or has no chance, though, and I’ll certainly be rooting for him. If his bat keeps up and he continues to play solid defense - he’s started at second, third, and short this spring - then we may no longer instinctively think “Robbie Grossman?” when No. 36 steps to the plate.