MEL ROJAS, JR.
|Born: May 24, 1990
Height: 6′ 3″
Drafted: 3rd Round, 84th Overall, 2010
How Acquired: Draft
College: Wabash Valley CC
WTM’S PIRATE PLAYER PROFILES
|Rojas is a very toolsy player who drew conflicting opinions from scouts. Baseball America ranked him 135th overall among draft prospects, while PGCrosschecker ranked him 51st. His hitting approach was erratic and inspired differing views from scouts, depending on when they saw him. There was even disagreement about his speed, which is bizarre, considering that scouts all have stopwatches. For what it’s worth, his speed strikes me as good but not great. He has a short stride and a heavy lower half, though, so he may start losing his speed early. Defensively, he may be a legitimate centerfielder and may not, but he definitely has the arm for right. Rojas has a great deal of upside, regardless, and some scouts saw him as the elusive, potential five-tool player. He’s the son of the former major league reliever and was born in the Dominican before attending school in the US. He redshirted during his first JC season. He agreed to terms in mid-July, surprisingly for slot money.
Rojas struggled at State College. He was very tentative at the plate, taking defensive swings and not hitting anything hard. He showed a willingness to take pitches, at least. He had only seven extra base hits, all doubles and struck out in a quarter of his ABs.
Rojas spent the year as the centerfielder at West Virginia and his struggles continued early in the season. He managed to hit for a barely passable average, but with almost no power or walks. In April and May, he had just four extra base hits, again all doubles, in 190 ABs. He also drew only seven walks and fanned 47 times, over a quarter of his ABs. From June on, however, he had 26 XBHs, including seven triples and five HRs, in 318 ABs. From July on, he greatly improved his walk rate, with 31, although he still struck out in over a fifth of his ABs. He was much better hitting from the left side than the right, with an OPS of .684 from the left side and .542 from the right. His plate discipline issues were especially pronounced hitting right-handed: he had only ten walks and 43 Ks, striking out once every three ABs. Hitting left-handed he had 36 walks and 76 Ks. Rojas played well defensively and stole a good number of bases, but with a low success rate.
Rojas didn’t make much progress at Bradenton. He seemed to be coming around in May, when he posted an OPS of .787, but he slumped after that and never got hot again. He continued to struggle badly from the right side, with a .592 OPS, as opposed to .690 hitting left-handed. His plate discipline remained weak and he hit for only a little more power. He played mostly center and continued to show a good arm and good range.
Rojas had easily his best season as a pro, although it fell short of being a real breakout year. He struggled early, with a .628 OPS in April, but improved in May and then got hot in June. Unfortunately, after posting an .843 OPS through mid-June, he missed the second half of the month with an oblique injury. He had an OPS of .751 over the rest of the season. In the end, Rojas posted career highs in all the slash stats by comfortable margins. He also improved significantly against LHPs, with a .730 OPS against them compared to .747 against RHPs. His plate discipline remained marginal. Rojas played center until Gregory Polanco moved up from Bradenton, when he moved to left.
Rojas was eligible for the Rule 5 draft; the Pirates didn’t add him to the 40-man roster and he wasn’t selected. They sent him back to Altoona to open the season, playing him in center. Rojas continued improving, hitting for a better average with better plate discipline, and showing slightly more power. On the last day of May, the Pirates promoted Rojas to AAA and he spent the rest of the year there, dividing his time among the three outfield positions. He adjusted well, continuing to draw walks at a good rate, although he had more trouble making contact. Overall, he hit better right-handed (.853 OPS) than left-handed (.769).
Rojas has turned into a solid, all-around player who doesn’t do any one thing exceptionally well. He profiles best as a fourth outfielder, because he doesn’t have the power typical for a corner outfielder or the speed for center, although he can play center at least respectably. He’ll be eligible for the Rule 5 draft again. At first blush, he seems an obvious candidate to be added to the roster, but the Pirates may not see it that way. Curiously, they generally batted him near the bottom of the order at Indianapolis, behind players who weren’t hitting as well as he was, and late in the season his playing time became sporadic. Among other things, he sat out several late-season games while Michael Martinez started in the outfield.