The Colorado Rockies, traditionally one of baseball’s streakiest teams, have been red hot in April during some freezing cold weather. Personally, I didn’t give the Rockies a snowball’s chance in hell of contending this season in the competitive National League West. That doesn’t mean this club lacks the talent to be successful. It’s just that for the Rockies to be in the hunt, a bunch of things need to happen.
First, Mexican southpaw Jorge De La Rosa has to stay healthy and pitch like the ace he was in the past. And Venezuelan right hander Jhoulys Chacin will have to perform to his full potential. Thus far, the 25-year-old Maracaibo native has lived up to expectations, but had to leave the mound enroute to victory during his last start due to injury.
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Secondly, the trio of Carlos Gonzalez, Troy Tulowitzki and Todd Helton has to stay off the DL and consistently be in the lineup. Well, so far, so good. Now, enter the Rockies secret weapon, Dominican catcher Wilin Rosario, and you have an offense that’s going to score a lot of runs.
During his first full season in the major leagues in 2012, Wilin Rosario launched 28 bombs with 71 RBIs in only 117 games, sharing the catching duties with Ramon Hernandez. But when the Venezuelan veteran ruptured his hamstring back on September 10, Wilin Rosario found himself in the driver’s seat. Rosario retained his job when spring camp broke, so Hernandez and his bloated contract were shipped off to the wealthy Los Angeles Dodgers. And to the delight of Colorado’s new skipper, Walt Weiss, Wilin Rosario has continued to crush the ball. He’s already gone yard four times with 13 RBIs in 14 games.
The stocky Rosario, 24, has always owned a powerful bat, but his defensive skills have yet to develop completely. Recognizing that reality, Rockies general manager Dan O’Dowd reached out to sign free agent Yorvit Torrealba, hoping the veteran could mentor Wilin Rosario. It was a comfortable move, since Torrebalba had previously played in Colorado, and choosing Yorvit over Hernandez saved the Rockies about $2 million.
“I know Wilin is going to play most of the time, but I want to help him as much as I can,” says the 35-year-old receiver. “Hopefully, his defense can become as good as his offense.”
Torrealba, known for his expertise in calling a game, will be De La Rosa’s personal catcher, and add another solid bat for Colorado off the bench.
Latino dominance behind the dish
Hispanic catchers have made their presence known over the last 20 years. Yadier Molina has grabbed the torch from fellow Puerto Rican Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, and the St. Louis Cardinals star is considered to be the best in the business. Like good wine, Molina seems to get better with age, and that’s why he makes $14 million per season. And Yadi’s older brother, Jose, still commands respect, getting most of the starts with the Tampa Bay Rays.
Wilin Rosario’s countryman, Carlos Santana, is a 27-year-old stud with the Cleveland Indians and is listed in the American League top 10 in virtually every offensive category this season. Santana is also locked in with the Indians through 2017, recently accepting a five-year, $21 million deal. Cleveland GM Chris Antonetti should have gotten a raise for negotiating that pact. Another prominent Dominican receiver worth a mention is Welington Castillo, 25, the Chicago Cubs bright young star. A home-grown prospect, Castillo is a huge upgrade over former Cub’s starter Geovany Soto, and won’t even be arbitration eligible until 2015.
Venezuela, known for it’s amazing shortstops, also appears to be a breeding ground for fine young catchers. Leading the parade is youthful veteran Miguel Montero, 29, the Arizona Diamondback’s All-Star receiver, who rakes in $10 million each year. Francisco Cervelli, only 27, has energized the New York Yankees after his minor league “prison sentence” last season. Francisco has made Yankees GM Brian Cashman look smart by letting Russell Martin walk, hitting over .300 out of the shoot and surfacing as a team leader.
“Sometimes, God has a different plan for you,” remarks Cervelli philosophically.
Even more youthful Venezuelans are making their mark. Salvador Perez, 23, of the Kansas City Royals, is already being called the next Yadier Molina, in reference to his cannon arm. The 6′-3″, 245-pound “Greek God” threw out 35.7 percent of potential base thieves last season, and picked off another five runners who were napping. Perez can hit too, posting a .301 batting average in 2012, even though he was sidelined with knee surgery. The Royals think the world of this kid, and economically extended his contract, even though he was under team control for years to come. The deal is only worth $7 million guaranteed, but could mushroom to as much as $26 million if Perez stays healthy and continues to produce.
Many Yankee fans are still bitter about the Jesus Montero–Michael Pineda trade, especially since Pineda never pitched in the Bronx last season due to serious injury, and he isn’t expected back until at least June. Montero, meanwhile, had respectable numbers last year for the Seattle Mariners and is a happy camper in the great Northwest. Not so happy is San Francisco Giants young slugger Hector Sanchez, who is 23 like Perez and Montero, and even owns a World Series ring. But Sanchez, you see, is the backup for Buster Posey, which means he spends a lot of time on the bench.
Then there is Wilson Ramos, the Washington Nationals catcher of the future, who splits time with veteran Kurt Suzuki. Ramos, 25, was off to a great start this year with a couple of home runs before landing on the shelf with a strained left hamstring. Injuries are nothing new to Ramos, who missed the entire 2012 season after blowing out his anterior cruciate ligament back on May 12.
Other serious things have happened to Ramos as well. After his inaugural season with the Nationals in 2011, Wilson was kidnapped outside his mother’s home in Valencia, Venezuela on November 9 by four armed men. He was held for ransom over 24 hours before being rescued in a mountain cabin. And that event brings me back to Yorvit Torrealba of the Rockies, who will be tutoring Wilin Rosario, the opening subject of this post.
Torrealba has been busy on Twitter the last few days, pleading for calm after the recent election in Venezuela has left several dead and hundreds injured. Fans may have forgotten Torrealba’s own harrowing experience during his last stint in Colorado in 2009. His then 11-year-old son and brother-in-law were abducted at midseason, with the kidnappers demanding $500,000 cash. The pair were found unharmed on the side of a highway leading to Caracas after a 48 hour ordeal, and the incident still weighs heavily on Yorvit.
“I’ve just been sending a lot of Tweets, asking for peace in my beautiful Venezuela,” Torrealba revealed. “I’m not taking sides or anything. I just don’t want to see people getting hurt.”
The violence in Venezuela, just like the Boston bombings, certainly put things into perspective. This is beyond baseball.