3/5/2013 8:04 P.M. ET
Rosario's confidence growing behind the plate
By Owen Perkins / Special to MLB.com
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Wilin Rosario was barely registering as a blip on the Rockies radar screen in the spring of 2011, getting six Cactus League at-bats in five games. But a 16-game callup with three homers offered a coming attraction for the Double-A catcher.
Fast forward to a 2012 rookie campaign for the Rockies filled with superlatives:
• His 28 homers led all National League rookies and all Rockies.
• He surpassed Todd Helton's record of 25 homers by a Rockies rookie.
• He set Colorado catching records for homers and RBIs (71).
Put it all together and it added up to a late surge in the Rookie of the Year voting, finishing in fourth place with another nefarious record perhaps dragging him down. Rosario led the Majors in passed balls, amassing more on his own than any team save the Mets, whose knuckleballer R. A. Dickey kept catchers scrambling en route to his Cy Young Award season.
For Rosario, the passed balls are hopefully a thing of the past. If it sounds like pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking, look at Sunday's loss to the A's, when Rockies pitchers gave up six walks, hit three batters with the bases loaded, and threw a wild pitch -- but no passed balls from Rosario or veteran Yorvit Torrealba, who caught the last three innings of the game.
"He had to block 13 balls in the dirt," said catching coach Jerry Weinstein of Rosario. "You could see his athleticism."
For the recently turned 24-year-old, Rosario's progression over the offseason allows him to put his focus on helping the pitching staff rather than defending himself from detractors.
"It was a little work," Rosario said of the eventful afternoon behind the dish. "Those pitchers need a little work. That's going to happen in the season, too, so it's better it happens right now so I can find what is the best way to pull these guys [back on track] again in the plan."
Make no mistake -- 2012 was a breakout season for Rosario, with the positives easily outweighing the "learning moments." He won the Rockies faith, and after unexpectedly jumping from Double-A to the backup catcher's slot on the Opening Day roster, he enters his sophomore season with a starting job and a confidence forged by adversity.
"Failure is a great teacher sometimes," Weinstein said. "Especially if you've got a thoroughbred. They learn from failure. They don't want that to happen again, so they take steps to rectify it, and he has done that. The credit goes to him."
A year's experience with 101 games behind the plate has made Rosario both more reactive and more relaxed, replacing deliberative thinking about every aspect of his game with instinctive reflexes demonstrating leaps and bounds as a backstop.
"He's slowed the game down by virtue of the work he's done," Weinstein said. "That's given him self-confidence, and self-confidence is everything."
Much of his work took place at home in the Dominican Republic playing Winter Ball for Aguilas and manager Alberto Castilla. Rosario has been fortunate to surround himself by catchers he can learn from, and his winter work was no different.
"I worked a lot in the offseason with Alberto Castilla, a veteran catcher for a long time," Rosario said, smiling. "We got some plans for this season, so maybe [people] will be surprised. I feel more mature behind the plate, more solid."
For Weinstein, the difference is already noticeable, even as Rosario prepared for just his fifth game of the Cactus League on Tuesday.
"His blocking has improved considerably," Weinstein said. "He's absorbing the ball, he's getting over the ball. Last year he was a lot more rigid and he wasn't getting over the ball, so he wasn't creating a down angle when the ball hit his chest protector. And he wasn't absorbing the ball, it was late a lot of times. When he gets there late, then he's moving into the ball while the ball's moving into him, and it's tough to keep the ball close. When you're late, nothing good can happen. Now he's getting there earlier and he's much softer and absorbing the ball in the dirt and he's receiving a lot more relaxed. That accounts for his improvement."
The Rockies have made sure to keep Rosario surrounded by veterans who can keep him on track and share the benefit of their baseball experience. A big part of the appeal of bringing back Torrealba was his strength in mentoring young catchers, having mentored Chris Iannetta as he established himself in the Majors
"Yorvi's got a lot of wisdom, a lot of stripes on his shoulder," manager Walt Weiss said. "He's good for Wilin."
Paired with Hernandez, Rosario can't help but glean from the 1-2 punch of veteran tutelage behind the plate.
"They're filling me with great catchers around me who I trust, and I feel great," Rosario said. "I'm pretty confident. Yorvit is a very happy guy. He keeps the clubhouse together. And Ramon is such an amazing player, such an experienced guy. And with the work I've been doing at Winter Ball, we're forming a great passel."
His work, his focus, and the mentors he surrounds himself with left his manager carefree with regards to Colorado's catching situation.
"I'm not real concerned about Wilin, to be honest with you," Weiss said. "I know he struggled last year, but he's so athletic. It's not like he doesn't have the skills to be a front-line catcher."
With a .385 (5-for-13) after his fifth Cactus League tilt, Rosario is where he wants to be, both in the lineup and behind the dish.
"I just need to keep on working, handling pitchers the right way," he said. "Keep learning from Yorvit. We're starting to see the results."
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.