One of the most underreported stories from the Cubs’ minor league system in 2016 has been the rebirth and transformation of pitcher Jose Rosario. The right-handed gunslinger has jumped from level to level to level this year, rising from Myrtle Beach to Tennessee before being promoted all the way to AAA Iowa, in less than three months. Rosario’s main weapon has been a fastball that clocks in at 95 to 100 miles per hour. He also throws a curve/slider and a changeup. While you may not have heard much about Rosario, he is not someone new. In fact, he’s been around the Cubs system for quite a long time.
Rosario was signed by the Cubs as an undrafted free agent in 2008. He bounced around the lower levels of the minors, including the Dominican Summer League, Arizona, and Boise, from 2008 through 2011. Prior to the 2012 season, Rosario was rated by Baseball America as the Cubs’ 22nd best prospect, right behind Steve Clevenger and ahead of Logan Watkins. Just under the radar.
I first saw a Rosario back in 2012 when he was pitching for the Peoria Chiefs in a game against Kane County. I remembered two things about that game. One was Javy Baez crushing the ball over the tree in left center field. The other was Rosario strinking out 10, even though he was only throwing 91 to 93.
Here’s an evaluation of Rosario by Cubs Den’s John Arguello from around the middle of that same season:
Rosario throws anywhere from 90-94 but has touched 97 mph on more than one occasion, so he’s not just fooling guys with his breaking stuff. He also shows solid control for a young pitcher, having walked less than 3 batters per 9 innings in each of the last two seasons. This year he has increased his strikeout total to a tick over 8 per 9 IP. And there’s still room for development, though he’s smallish and will have to develop at least one more solid pitch to remain a starter, preferably a consistent change-up to keep lefties honest. Rosario is 6-6 with a 4.25 ERA (3.42 FIP) on the season. though he has pitched particularly well of late, going 3-1 with a 2.36 in June.
Rosario did not do well the rest of that year and was back in class A again in 2013. He struggled with injuries and had a 7.38 ERA at Kane County. Strangely enough, he was actually promoted at the end of the season. In his time with Daytona in 2014, he was removed from the rotation twice and made only 16 starts. He then blew out his elbow and missed all of 2015 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Not exactly an ideal situation for a fast-rising prospect.
When he returned in 2016, no one expected too much from Rosario. In hindsight, that might’ve been the best thing for him. With no pressure on him to pitch well, the only focus was to go out and just pitch. And in doing so, Rosario has been lights out this year. He spent two months at Myrtle Beach, one month at Tennessee, and has two games in at Iowa. In 34.2 innings pitched across those three stops, he has a 2.08 ERA with 30 strikeouts and only 11 walks. It’s an extremely impressive rise from what appeared to be the ashes of his career.
And even though ashes only come from flames, I don’t think anyone envisioned him dialing the heat up to 98 mph. As a starter, Rosario could touch the mid-90’s occasionally with his fastball. As a reliever, that appears to be the low end of the range.
I think it’ll be interesting to keep an eye on Rosario to see how he does at Iowa with his newfound velocity. At 24 years old, I don’t think the Cubs are going to give up on him just yet. Now that he’s reached AAA, he’s only just a few hours away from Chicago. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him get the chance to show what he can do out of the bullpen this August or September. If he arrived this year, it would be the climax of a very cinematic season. However, I think his odds of coming up sticking in the pen are much better in 2017.
Rosario’s performance this year, combined with the Cubs’ need for bullpen arms, puts an X squarely on his chest for the Rule 5 draft. As such, I think he gets added to the 40-man roster along with a couple other relievers. It’s a big jump from the beaches of South Carolina to those of Lake Michigan, but 96-100 mph is 96-100 mph whether it’s in the Carolina League or the NL Central.