MINNEAPOLIS — If he didn’t invent the term, he certainly popularized it. Back in the day, Bill Parcells liked to boil his feelings about players down to acronyms. The first time he saw Lawrence Taylor in practice, back in 1981, he turned to another coach and marveled, “That guy is AFP — all football player.”
On the field that day were a batch of rookies and castoffs who were there just to fill out the practice roster. Parcells had an acronym for them, too: “SAF — Slow And Friendly.”
But the player that would get in Parcells’ head quickest — and the term for such players that would be his to pass along to a thousand football coaches who came after him, was of a melancholy bent: JAG.
Just another guy.
We bring this up on a stifling and stormy afternoon in Minnesota because JAG has become a staple in all sports by now, and it is not a term of endearment. Mostly, a JAG refers to a guy who used to be thought of very highly — either because he’d accomplished wondrous deeds in an arena, a rink or a stadium, or was expected to — and didn’t.
They were — or were supposed to be — a star.
Now they’re a JAG.
And one question the Mets have to answer that looms high above all the others as they assess this woebegone season and plan for 2020 and beyond, is this:
Is Amed Rosario a JAG? Because if he is it is a setback of mammoth proportions.
Just two years ago, at the midway mark of the 2017 season, Baseball Prospectus ranked its 50 brightest prospects. Amed Rosario was No. 2 on that list, trailing only Yoan Moncada of the White Sox. Among the names behind him on that list were Gleyber Torres (7), Ronald Acuna (11), Juan Soto (12), Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (13), Ozzie Albies (40) and Scott Kingery (50), to just keep it all in the NL East/New York City family.
Now, these rankings are often rife with misjudgments and often what we see on the major league level renders them almost moot. But not always. And look, No. 2 in the whole sport is No. 2 in the whole sport. “BP” gushed: “Rosario is a plus shortstop glove with plus-plus speed, and the bat has continued to develop. He’s a potential five-tool shortstop and only slots in behind Moncada because of varying reports on the ultimate power projection.”
The biggest reason it’s important to restate that is that it’s important to remember it wasn’t just the Mets who thought Rosario was a can’t-miss prospect: EVERYONE thought that.
Now, Rosario is still only 23 years old. That matters. He has shown incremental improvement as an offensive player but it has been achingly so: a 76 OPS+ as a rookie to 88 last year to 92 this year, which screams he is still well below league average. And he has shown the ability to drive the ball, the one thing missing from that toolbox.
But defensively? Look, we can emphasize that he was ranked 22 — or dead last — in defensive WAR among shortstops, per FanGraphs, but really the problem arises if you watch him play every day. While he seems to have solved his puzzling issue with routine plays, those are all he seems to make now. Every time he’s asked to make a play with more than a 1 percent degree of difficulty the ball escapes him, eludes him, eats him up.
It feels like every team the Mets play has a better shortstop, one that actually makes plays you’ll see on SportsCenter occasionally, whether that’s Dansby Swanson or Jean Segura, Trea Turner or Trevor Story, Torres or Javier Baez or Fernando Tatis Jr. or Corey Seager, on and on and on.
More and more, Rosario looks like Just Another Guy.
Asked if the expectations that preceded Rosario into the league hurt him, Mets manager Mickey Callaway said Tuesday, “That’s hard to say unless you’re inside that player’s mind and his shoes. You can’t ever speculate. Everyone has expectations, especially at the major league level, but even in the minors. That can’t be an excuse.”
Not every player maximizes his talent right away. The Mets think so highly of Rosario’s offensive ceiling they’ve had him take fly balls in center. There’s time for him to reach the lofty perch so many had for him. Maybe even time to shed the nagging sense that he may only be Just Another Player.
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