Garabez Rosa exudes patience in his pursuit of the big leagues. Yet he also realizes the urgency in attaining that dream.
Somehow, though, the two forces never conflict for the Double-A Bowie utility man, who is arguably the most patient and most unique member of the entire Orioles’ organization – and one of its hottest-hitting.
“It’s a long time playing here in (Bowie), like five years in this league, like Double-A. But I have one dream,” Rosa said through interpreter and teammate Erick Salcedo. “If I’m still inside the game of baseball, I want to be in the big leagues someday. So, I keep working hard, so someday I can be a big league guy.”
If you don’t immediately recognize Rosa’s name, that’s OK. He’s never been a Top 10 prospect in the system. He’s played just 24 games at Triple-A in the past three seasons and hit an underwhelming .218 with two homers in 98 at-bats.
But there’s so much more to Rosa’s story.
The second-longest tenured in O’s organization
Rosa was signed by the Orioles out of the Dominican Republic in 2007, three weeks after his 17th birthday.
Closer Zach Britton, who was drafted in 2006, is the only current player to have joined the Orioles’ organization before Rosa.
Consider that Rosa has been in the system longer than Adam Jones or Chris Tillman or Caleb Joseph, but has never once played in a major league game – and barely has reached the final rung of the minor league ladder.
The 27-year-old’s itinerant baseball life reads like a minor-league map: 2007 in the Dominican Summer League; 2008 with the Gulf Coast League Orioles and the Short-A Aberdeen IronBirds of the New York Penn League; 2009 at Aberdeen and with the Low-A Delmarva Shorebirds of the South Atlantic League; 2010 at Delmarva all year; 2011 at Delmarva and the High-A Frederick Keys of the Carolina League; 2012 exclusively at Frederick; 2013 and 2014 with the Double-A Baysox of the Eastern League; 2015 and 2016 at Bowie and the Triple-A Norfolk Tides of the International League.
And this year, Rosa, a 6-foot-2, 166-pound right-handed hitter, is back in Bowie — his fifth separate season with the Baysox, for whom he has played a record 526 games and counting. And he’s flourishing, battling for the league batting title with a .336 average through 58 games. He’s also among the league leaders with 43 RBIs and has hit six homers while playing solid defense at first base, second base, third base and center field.
The Crash Davis of Bowie
Rosa has shattered most of Bowie’s all-time records – many of which had been held by Joseph, currently an Orioles’ catcher – including games played, hits, RBIs, runs and doubles. Overall, he’s played 1,087 games in the minors.
Baysox manager Gary Kendall credits Rosa’s work ethic for his accomplishments, but is a little uncomfortable with the perception the records can create.
“The only thing that I really never liked, and they did it with Caleb (Joseph) when he was here,” Kendall said, “was (the Baysox) broadcast the fact that he played so many games here, because that makes the players look like they can’t play a level above this. And both of those guys could — and Caleb is a guy who’s now playing in the major leagues.”
Joseph, who played in Bowie from 2010 to 2013, knows better than most what Rosa is going through, and accomplishing.
“You have to understand it’s hard to do what he does,” Joseph said. “Not necessarily the physical aspect, but just to continue to get jobs. Most of the players that I’ve played with for two or three years in Bowie, they were either released or sent down. So, it is pretty amazing. He’s obviously a good player, because he keeps getting a job.”
Rosa’s favorite player growing up was former Boston Red Sox slugger Manny Ramirez. He admired Ramirez’s prowess at the plate and tried to apply some of the things Ramirez did to his own game.
In the field, Rosa’s value lies in his versatility. He started his career as a shortstop, but hasn’t played there this season. He enjoys gaining the experience everywhere, and Kendall said Rosa’s do-anything attitude is one of his strongest attributes.
“One of the things that I really like about him, he’s in pretty good shape and he likes to play every day,” Kendall said. “He’s a guy that never walks in and asks for a day off. He comes to the ballpark expecting to play. He likes to play the game.”
Getting noticed on the field
Rosa has participated as an “extra” or “just in case” player in each of the Orioles’ past four spring trainings. And he has been constantly praised by Orioles manager Buck Showalter for his contributions. In 2016, Rosa hit .571 in 21 spring at-bats to put him firmly on Showalter’s radar.
Rosa said the big league coaches have told him to keep doing what he does and he’ll get noticed. Meanwhile, he said, he has learned a lot in spring training from playing alongside major leaguers such as Adam Jones and Manny Machado.
In turn, Rosa tries to help out younger players at Bowie when they go through slumps. Kendall said Rosa’s not a loud, vocal leader, but he often leads by example.
Rosa’s toughest obstacle is one that he continues to wrestle with: the language barrier. He knows some English, and has learned baseball lingo. But, especially in the earlier part of his career, the language barrier made things difficult. There were times at Delmarva when he was the only Latino player on the team.
“It’s a little hard, the language, because in our country we don’t talk in that language,” Rosa said. “But I try to learn every day a little bit. I pay attention to the other guys talking English. That’s the important part right now. I’m trying to learn a lot of English. The teammates try to help me.”
Joseph said that if anyone were going to break his games played record at Bowie, he’s glad it was Rosa, a former teammate.
“I know he may not be glad about it, but it is impressive,” Joseph said. “That is a long time. But it’s not like he’s 35. He’s 27. I debuted (with the Orioles) at 27. So, it’s possible. But being (an amateur) free agent and coming over as young as he was, it seems like he should be about 40 years old. But he’s not. … Sometimes you forget that because he’s been there for so long.”
After all this time in the minors, Rosa is still motivated by his passion for the game. He said baseball is the most important thing in his life. He’s not sure how long he’ll play the sport, but he’s hoping to continue for as long as his body and mind remain sharp.
And he’s hoping one day all of the toiling in the minors will be worth it.
“I wait for that moment to be in the big leagues,” Rosa said. “I (would) be excited for me and my family, because they wait for a long time for that moment. So, I’m excited to be in the big leagues someday soon.”