Rosario's ankle 'affected everything' in 2019

Left fielder pushing to remain healthy to improve defense, baserunning

March 2nd, 2020

JUPITER, Fla. -- has always played with his trademark confidence and aggression during his time with the Twins. But last year, he couldn’t always get to where he wanted.

When the Twins' left fielder looks at his numbers from 2019, he acknowledges that there's definite room for improvement in several areas -- defense, walks, OPS -- as he seeks once again to be counted on as an important power source in the lineup. Rosario indicated that the sprained left ankle that he sustained on June 26 hindered his performance in the latter half of 2019, as he played through pain that didn't completely go away.

He said that taking some time off his feet during the offseason and undergoing some physical therapy has him pain-free this spring and optimistic about the year to come.

"I know that after the injury, I pushed a lot to play," Rosario said. "I couldn't play my 100 percent. I couldn't run at 100 percent last year. It affected everything."

Rosario was hitting .282/.312/.529 with 20 homers in 75 games at the time of his injury, sustained while rounding first base in a home game against the Rays. In the 62 games he played following his return from the 10-day injured list on July 16, he hit .268/.286/.465 with 12 homers.

"I wanted to try to help this team," he added. "When I got injured, the next month, Cleveland passed Minnesota for one game. When I saw that, I said, 'I need to come back to play and help the team win.' That's what I want to do for this team. This year's different. I feel better. I want to try to work better, work more hard. Everything is different when I am healthy."

An ankle injury doesn't account for some of Rosario's offensive shortcomings that he hopes to address this season -- he acknowledges that his low walk rate holds back his OPS -- but was, indeed, reflected in some of his metrics from last season.

For one, Rosario's sprint speed on the basepaths took a dive from 28.0 feet per second in 2018 to 27.1 ft/sec last season, dropping from noticeably above league average to right on par with the average mark (27.0 ft/sec).

But nowhere did Rosario's numbers take a bigger dive than on defense. Last season, Rosario ranked dead last among qualified outfielders -- 133rd out of 133 -- with minus-17 outs above average, according to Statcast. He had been much more serviceable in '18 with minus-2 outs above average in left field, tied for 85th out of 132 qualified outfielders.

Part of his regression, of course, might be attributed to the influence of playing next to the rangy Byron Buxton, and that might have something to do with why Rosario was worth minus-8 runs when going to his left (towards center field when playing in left), which significantly dragged down his defensive numbers. That was also the direction in which his bad ankle would have been responsible for the first step.

"I see the numbers," Rosario said. "Everybody knows -- for example, the manager or the GM or somebody -- they know that I'm a good defender. I know I'm a good defender. But I need to be healthy to play my regular defense."

None of that stopped Rosario from smacking a career-high 32 homers during the regular season as one of five Twins players with 30 or more roundtrippers, which set a new Major League record. But he was only worth 1.2 WAR, per FanGraphs, and knows that every ounce of value will matter more this season, with the Twins hoping to contend for a World Series.

His newly healthy ankle certainly won't be a fix-all. But it should be a step in the right direction.

"We're happy with the way he's moving around, and he's been motivated and I think he's moving well," manager Rocco Baldelli said. "That was a fairly significant injury that he was playing with last year. I can't say that at any point during the regular season last year he was 100 percent running around out there. I think the offseason was good to him. He seems good out there now."