PITTSBURGH — With 2019 on his mind, manager Mickey Callaway is getting an extended look at Amed Rosario batting leadoff — and likes what he sees.
Rosario topped the Mets’ lineup for the sixth game in a row on Saturday against the Pirates. Callaway likened Rosario’s apparent mental shift when batting first to Asdrubal Cabrera’s ability to be a lineup chameleon, tweaking his approach to fit his spot — first, second, fourth — any given day.
“[Rosario is] staying on balls, driving balls the other way, slapping balls the other way, laying off tough pitches,” Callaway said. “He’s going to swing and miss at a well-executed slider just like everybody else is every now and again, but when I see him at the leadoff spot right now, I think it’s time for him to get a little bit of a chance to see if this might be an option for next year. That’s why he’s in the leadoff spot again.”
That’s cool by Rosario, who has spent most of the year hitting ninth but flips to the other end amid his hottest stretch of the season. In his past 13 games entering Saturday, Rosario was hitting .314 with a .340 OBP and .510 slugging percentage.
Rosario didn’t bat leadoff in the minors, and did so only thrice with the Mets before this week, but said Jose Reyes, his mentor and the Mets’ leadoff guy during his heyday last decade, told him it could be a good move.
“I speak with Jose, he say, hey, that’s where you want to hit,” Rosario said. “You don’t want to hit in the eighth or ninth spot, because they say [leadoff] is where the money is.”
Reyes laughed and elaborated, noting that yes, money is part of it, but it’s also about the player Rosario is, can be and should want to be.
Rosario certainly fits the traditional mold of a leadoff hitter — he’s a fast shortstop — but with a career .283 OBP and 4.6-percent walk rate, he will need to make significant improvements to fit the new-age mold that values on-base skills. Brandon Nimmo, for example, isn’t your typical stolen-base burner, but entering Saturday he was getting on base at a .386 clip, seventh in the National League. He has led off 57 games this year, by far Callaway’s most popular choice.
Callaway isn’t opposed to Rosario at leadoff over the longer-term, even if Nimmo is much better at reaching first base.
“You have to take into account who you have as a team,” Callaway said. “You can’t just lean on analytics on every decision you make. Right now, we’ve been a pretty good team with [Rosario] leading off.”