If there’s one common criticism of the approach the Pittsburgh Pirates have taken in the draft, it’s been that they’ve gone too heavy with pitching prospects, leaving the system thin on hitters. Yet when the Pirates selected Mel Rojas Jr. in the third round of the 2010 draft, it raised some questions, as top prep pitcher A.J. Cole was still on the board at the time, despite entering the draft as a potential top 20 pick. Rojas Jr., the son of former Expos closer Mel Rojas, was described as a potential five tool talent who was more on the raw side.
Those raw skills showed when Rojas started his pro career with a .207/.309/.250 line in State College in 2010. Rojas got off to a good start, but quickly faded down the stretch. Part of that was due to fatigue from getting adjusted to a longer schedule than Rojas was used to in college. When I saw him at the end of the year in 2010 his speed and defense looked good, although the bat wasn’t looking as hot.
Rojas moved up to West Virginia this year, where he got off to a slow start. He hit for a .253 average in April, with a .559 OPS. In May he wasn’t much better, with a .243 average and a .535 OPS. However, he’s started to heat up the last two months. In June, Rojas hit for a .268 average, but saw an increase in his walks and power, with his OPS jumping to .716 for the month. So far in July, Rojas has been on fire, with a .333 average in 24 at-bats, along with a 1.116 OPS.
I saw Rojas last week while I was in West Virginia. The defense looked good, with good range and a great arm. As for the hitting, that continues to be the big question mark. Rojas chased a few low and away pitches, giving a kind of Ronny Cedeno like leaning swing from the right side of the plate. From the left side, Rojas looked better, and crushed a home run down the right field line in one of the games I saw. That power, which has only led to three homers in the actual games, is apparent in batting practice, where Rojas has been known to put on a show. The key going forward with Rojas is applying that to the games.
Rojas is still very raw at the plate, but the potential is definitely there. He has an issue of rolling over top of pitches, leading to more grounders and fewer line drives and fly balls. The good thing is that the Pirates have plenty of time for him to develop. With Andrew McCutchen in center field, and Starling Marte looking like an option at the AA level, there is plenty of time for Rojas to develop his hitting skills.