Rosario having a solid rookie season

After lingering on the fringes of the National League Rookie of the Year debate, Colorado Rockies catcher Wilin Rosario is working his way back into the conversation in increments of 400 to 450 feet.

Rosario, 23, is rarely mentioned as a top candidate for the award even though his offensive numbers trump several other position players with higher profiles. He leads NL rookies with an .851 OPS and 26 homers, the fourth highest total for a rookie catcher in Major League Baseball history and the most since Mike Piazza went deep 35 times for the 1993 Los Angeles Dodgers. Rosario's .537 slugging percentage is third best among MLB catchers this season behind Philadelphia's Carlos Ruiz and San Francisco's Buster Posey.

September has been a productive month for Rosario. Over the weekend he joined Torii Hunter as the second major leaguer this season to record four straight three-hit games, and he entered Tuesday's game against the Cubs on a 12-for-17 binge. When Rosario hit No. 26 Saturday off Arizona's Patrick Corbin, he broke the Colorado rookie record set by Todd Helton in 1998.

"I feel pretty good about that,'' Rosario said by phone Monday. "Todd Helton has been here so many years. That's a leader, a guy you follow every time. He's a guy you respect on and off the field because of the amount of things he does here. When people mention my name with his, it's amazing to me.''

Despite traveling in such exclusive company, Rosario has been a relative afterthought in the NL top rookie debate. Arizona's Wade Miley, 16-10 with a 3.25 ERA in 183 innings pitched, has emerged as the front-runner for the award, while Washington's Bryce Harper, Cincinnati's Todd Frazier and Zack Cozart, Milwaukee's Norichika Aoki and Michael Fiers, San Diego's Yonder Alonso, Chicago's Anthony Rizzo, St. Louis' Matt Carpenter and Houston's Lucas Harrell are names likely to be popping up on rookie ballots to varying degrees in November.

The lack of attention accorded Rosario stems from several factors beyond his imposing power numbers:

• In keeping with Rockies tradition, Rosario's home-road splits don't help his cause. He has a .290/.340/.604 slash line at home compared with .254/.284/.462 on the road, and 17 of his 26 homers have come at Coors Field. Rosario also has only 22 walks to go with 91 strikeouts, and an on-base percentage of .314.

• Although Rosario has thrown out a very respectable 30 of 89 base stealers, he has committed a major league high 20 passed balls. FanGraphs gives Rosario a 6.7 Wins Above Replacement offensively, and a minus-6.4 defensively. Rosario plans to work on blocking balls and honing his receiving technique in winter ball in his native Dominican Republic, and he will make defense a point of emphasis during offseason workouts in Tampa, Fla.

Matt Wieters, Carlos Santana and other young catchers have struggled to produce offensively while embracing the responsibilities of handling a staff and calling games. Rosario has a lot on his plate in Denver, where the Rockies have used 14 starting pitchers and have a major league-worst 5.28 team ERA.

"He has had to catch a lot of young pitchers and a staff that has struggled as a whole,'' Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd said in an email. "He has gotten progressively better, and when you have to catch 190-plus pitches in a game and block 16 balls in the dirt, your defensive numbers may be a little skewed.''

Finally, Rosario suffers in the publicity department while playing for a team with a 59-94 record and baseball's third worst run differential. If the Rockies are optimistic about his future, it's because of his positive attitude and personal mandate to address the deficiencies in his game.

"He is still a pup,'' O'Dowd said. "Because of his desire to get better, his incredible energy and his passion for the game, he has a chance to be a good one with time, patience and a lot of game experience.''

Rosario said he would "like to be mentioned a little bit'' in the Rookie of the Year discussion, but the lack of attention hasn't cramped his style. Former Rockies All-Star Vinny Castilla, now a special assistant with the team, christened Rosario the "Baby Bull'' when the kid first arrived at big league camp in Arizona. Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda had first dibs on the nickname, of course. But if Rosario can hit 30 homers this year, he will expand his profile beyond the confines of Coors Field and the Denver market.

All those long flies probably won't land him a 2012 Rookie of the Year award. But they're a pretty good start.