When the Padres signed journeyman utility player Adam Rosales last January, it hardly caused a blip on the news ticker. None of us would have guessed that by the end of the season, he would appear in more Padres games than all but seven players. Along the way, he posted career highs in several categories while providing value and leadership on and off the field. One of the last players to make the opening day roster ended up making one of the largest contributions to the 2016 Padres.
There’s always been a fascination with utility players. They are often an unsung hero, a player whose value doesn’t show up in box scores or headlines, but whose contributions are best appreciated when you look at how they fill the voids created by injuries or extended slumps. The Padres have a long history of useful utility players, with some notables being Derrel Thomas, Luis Salazar, Bip Roberts, Andy Sheets, Mark Loretta, and Jerry Hairston Jr. When I moved to Portland, OR in 2000 and adopted the Seattle Mariners as my AL team of choice, I immediately became a fan of Mark McLemore. His departure led to the emergence of Willie Bloomquist. All of these players provided respectable defense all over the field, while being useful enough at the plate to come through in key situations.
Adam Rosales was signed to a minor league contract on January 8, 2016. At the time it was seen as a AAA depth signing, as a veteran player who can handle all infield positions. He had spent the last six years bouncing between the MLB & AAA rosters with the Cincinnati Reds, Oakland Athletics, and Texas Rangers. Fellow utilitymen Skip Schumaker and Nick Noonan, also free agent minor league signees, also seemed destined for the same role. With Wil Myers, Alexei Ramirez, Yangervis Solarte, and Cory Spangenberg penciled in as the infield starters, Rosales seemed buried in the depth chart behind incumbent utilityman Alexi Amarista and spring training standout Jemile Weeks. The competition was fierce. Many were surprised when he made the opening day roster over Weeks, which was seen as a result of a long-term friendship with his former teammate/roommate and now Padres manager Andy Green.
Nobody expected the decimation of the Padres infield to leg injuries, which limited the seasons of both Spangenberg and Weeks to under 100 at-bats combined, and put Solarte and Amarista on the disabled list for over a month each. As a result, Rosales played in a career-high 105 games, appearing at all four infield positions and both corners of the outfield. A capable defender wherever you put him, Rosales provided consistently solid play with impressive range, excellent fundamentals, and a very strong arm.
At the plate, Rosales surprised everyone with a display of power. His .495 slugging percentage was nearly 100 points higher than his previous career high (.400 on 2010), as he set career highs with 13 home runs, 12 doubles, 37 runs scored, and 35 runs batted in. His .869 OPS was second behind only Ryan Schimpf among Padres regulars. He also led the league in average home run trot time.
Perhaps Rosales’ most valuable contribution to the team is through leadership. A tireless worker, the young players on the roster could look to Rosales and fellow veteran Jon Jay to see how to properly prepare for a game and for a season. Whether running out a grounder, taking a walk, or rounding the bases after a homer, everything he does is at full speed. Regardless of his role, he’s ready to do anything the team asks of him. His work ethic and aggressive approach make him an example for any player in any sport at any level. On this topic, Andy Green said the following in an interview with Cincinatti.com:
In an emotional game shortly after the announcement that teammate Yangervis Solarte lost his wife Yuliett to cancer, Rosales connected on a home run. In a fitting tribute, after sprinting the bases in typical Rosey style, he added Solarte’s celebratory clap as he crossed the plate.
Not only does Adam Rosales represent dedication and hard work, he also represents a teammate and a friend who plays with joy and heart. This year’s performance is the product of his passion for the game meeting the opportunity to get to do what he loves full-time. That’s what makes him my Favorite Friar of 2016.