DENVER -- As a baseball player and fan growing up in Bonao, Dominican Republic, Wilin Rosario always looked up to pitchers. In a literal sense, that was a huge problem. A coach that had trained him broke the bad news. "He told me, 'You can't be a pitcher, because you're not going to be too tall,'" Rosario recalled. "He knew that my mom and my dad were shorter than me. They said, 'You can be a good infielder if you can run, but at that time I didn't run too well. Then they said, 'The best position for you is going to be catcher.'" The Rockies are happy with how far Rosario stopped on the growth chart.
Rosario, listed at 5-foot-11 and a muscular 200 pounds, seems born for his position, and he has been playing as if he's destined for stardom. After a standout performance at Double-A Tulsa and a promising 16-game trial with the Rockies at the end of the season, Rosario -- who turns 23 on Feb. 23 -- is excelling early in the Dominican Winter League season. Heading into Thursday, Rosario was hitting .281 with five home runs though his first 17 games for the Aguilas Cibaenas, and his 22 RBIs led the league. Rosario figures prominently in the Rockies' future, although it's unclear how immediately that future will arrive. The Rockies liked the final six weeks of work from Chris Iannetta, who is under contract for $3.8 million for next season. With the Rockies, Rosario showed power (three home runs, three doubles and a triple) and a strong arm (throwing out five of the eight would-be basestealers). However, Rosario also hit .204 with 20 strikeouts to just two walks, and at times struggled handling pitches close to batters, as well as plays at the plate. It all could add up to a good situation for the Rockies -- a solid, young veteran in Iannetta, who can give a budding star more time to develop while catching regularly at Triple-A Colorado Springs. Depending on offseason moves, the Rockies could have a predominantly young pitching staff, one that would be better served by a veteran receiver. Rosario will show how much or how little time he needs with his performance starting in Spring Training. "What you definitely will be mindful of moving forward is that you don't want to feel that you're pushing the envelope so hard that you have Wilin Rosario here before his development has completely finished," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said late in the season. "The polish part alone is very important. This is a very talented player. You need the growth process to fulfill itself." That would be the obligatory words of caution that come on the bright, shiny package that carries any exciting young player. But if Rosario smoothes the rough edges, he could become the special player the Rockies thought they had when they signed him in 2006, days shy of his 17th birthday. One Rockies scout told coaches at the time that if Rosario had grown up in the U.S. using an aluminum bat, he might have been the No. 1 overall pick in the First-Year Player Draft. Marv Foley worked with Rosario for much of his Minor League career, and saw him last year in the Majors when Foley was the big club's catching instructor. Foley, who will return to the Minor League system in 2012, recalls his first impression when he saw Rosario at the Rockies' academy at Boca Chica, Dominican Republic. "I watched this kid take batting practice at first," said Foley, who said he sees Rosario as a future All-Star. "Down there, it's a legitimate field. Very few of those kids at that age can hit balls out of the park with wood bats, and he hit quite a few out. Then we did catching work. The first ball that he throws goes out in right-center field somewhere. The next throw hits the mound. I'm like, 'Oh, my goodness.' Then the next three in a row were bullets, right on the base. I went, 'Uh-oh.' "He runs well right now for a catcher. He can throw. You've seen the pop he's got. Once he learns to be a little more patient -- I'm sure his emotions have run away with him a little bit at the plate and he's swinging at bad balls -- and he gets to the point where he makes the pitcher throw him a strike, he's going to be dangerous." Rosario received high marks for aggressiveness, even as he learned difficult lessons. In his Major League debut, Rosario was charged with a seventh-inning passed ball. He missed Jason Hammel's inside pitch to Arizona's Chris Young, who was bunting. The miscue helped the D-backs take a 2-1 lead. However, in the eighth, Rosario made himself a part of a seven-run, game-winning rally by drawing one of the two walks he earned in the Majors. The next night, he hit his first big league homer, off of the D-backs' Joe Saunders, in a 5-3 loss. "In this game, you're going to make a few mistakes, but you need to learn and try not to do them again," Rosario said. "That's all. But it's going to happen again. Everybody knows. "Here, if you make a little mistake, they're going to make an adjustment. It's consistency, doing well, controlling what you can control, and not trying to do too much. When we try to do too much, that's when we get ourselves into trouble." Foley said Rosario is on the right track. "I've trained him since he was 17 -- he's like the car that I bought six years ago and I've kept it in perfect running position," Foley said. "I know by the sound of it what's wrong. I can look at him and he can fix himself. I'll say, 'What did you do on this play?' and he'll tell me exactly what he did wrong. That's good. "Now once the smoke clears and he's comfortable with the surroundings and realizes what's at stake, which will all come in time, he's going to be a special player." It's not a bad consolation for a kid who didn't realize his dream to add to a healthy list of Major League pitchers from his hometown. Instead, he doubled another list. "I was a little bit disappointed," Rosario said. "From my city, there are only pitchers in the Majors -- Wandy Rodriguez, Nunez, Carlos Marmol, Juan Cruz, Joel Peralta, a lot of pitchers before them. "But now, there are only two catchers, Juan Espino, for the Yankees in the 80s and, now, me. "
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.