MILWAUKEE — At the end of a recent bunting lesson, the pupil, Amed Rosario, posed a question to the instructor, Mets bench coach Gary DiSarcina: In scenarios in which Rosario was asked to lay down a sacrifice bunt, would it be OK if he instead tried to bunt for a hit?
DiSarcina’s answer: absolutely.
He was once in Rosario’s spot, a young-20s shortstop for the Angels, and had trouble creating the appropriate bat-ball angle for sacrifice bunts. His hitting coach, Hall of Famer and master bunter Rod Carew, told him to try bunting for a hit instead. Perhaps the one smooth motion would be more comfortable than squaring up before the pitch.
“Rod’s tip to me was, first and second, if you’re asked to bunt in a sacrifice situation, go ahead and bunt for a hit,” DiSarcina said. “Bunt for a hit, and the same result is going to happen. You’re still going to get a sac bunt, the runners moved up. The bottom line is to move the runners. If you’re having a hard time squaring early, creating your angle early, don’t do it.”
Rosario does not have a bunt single in the majors yet, but bunting has been a recent area of focus for him. He has spent several afternoon practice sessions this month on the field — well before batting practice — with DiSarcina and first-base coach Ruben Amaro Jr., trying to push baseballs into a bucket about halfway up the third-base line.
DiSarcina’s thinking is that the 22-year-old Rosario, whose speed rates as well above average, should have that tool in his kit. He drew on his experience with another highly touted shortstop prospect, Boston’s Xander Bogaerts, whom he managed briefly in Triple-A before Bogaerts was called up to the majors in August 2013 to contribute to the eventual World Series champions. Bogaerts was known more for his power, but he dedicated time to learning how to bunt while with DiSarcina’s team.
“It’s important for [Rosario], especially in the position he plays and where he hits in the batting order,” DiSarcina said. “The way I look at it is, it’s my job to try to bring out every tool in him. Bunting may not be sexy and a big thing, but in a two-week span where he’s struggling offensively, if he can drop one or two bunts down, then start bringing the third baseman in and maybe hook a ball down the line by the third baseman, now he’s got three hits and not feeling so bad about himself.”
The practice raises a question about Rosario’s development and the Mets’ player-development tendencies: Why didn’t he learn how to bunt for a hit in the minors? Rosario said early this month that it was the first time he ever practiced doing so.
Assistant general manager John Ricco said that with a player like Rosario, who moved through the minors very quickly, a finer point like bunting — while taught — simply is not a focal point. With Rosario specifically, the Mets worked mostly on his control of the strike zone as they challenged him offensively with promotions.
“These guys are working on basically everything down there,” Ricco said. “I’d be surprised if he hadn’t worked on it.”
It also relates to the Mets’ organizational and roster-constructing philosophies.
“We’re not an organization that generally is big on [bunting and stealing],” Ricco said. “We’ve never built ourselves as a small-ball type of team. I think [Rosario] should be able to do that. We’d like to see him continue to show a little more power, because I think he can. That’s probably as much a focus as the bunting and stealing.”
Rosario did show power Friday night, hitting a solo homer in the third inning against the Brewers.