When Chris Dickerson went on the disabled list last week with a heel injury, Mel Rojas, Jr. benefited by earning a promotion to Triple-A and his listed hometown of Indianapolis.
“This is a good level to be on,” Rojas said. “There are a lot of guys with experience here and I am sure that I am going to learn a lot from them.”
In his first Triple-A at bat, Rojas picked up an infield single. In his second game, on Sunday, he added a pair of singles and a stolen base. While his ability to drive the ball hasn’t appeared in Indianapolis yet, Rojas is pleased that he is able to get on base and contribute.
“I have not been driving the ball, but I am at least getting some contact and putting the ball in play,” Rojas said. “I am using my speed to get some hits. The other stuff will come later (with experience).”
At Altoona this season, Rojas had 17 extra-base hits with 11 doubles, a triple and five home runs. The overall power numbers may be starting to develop for him, as well. The five home runs that he had with Altoona to start the season was as many as he had all of last year in over twice as many at bats at the Double-A level.
Even in just a handful of games, Rojas can already see that the adjustment from Double-A to Triple-A will be a large one. He has admired the marked improvement with the pitching already.
“The pitchers are more consistent here,” Rojas said. “I am seeing a lot of off speed pitches and breaking balls. Pitchers work backwards in the count. It is going to be a tough league, but it is going to be a good experience for myself.”
For Rojas, being around the game is nothing new, as his father Mel Rojas Sr. is still a huge influence on his progression.
“It definitely helps because every single night, I will go to him,” Rojas said. “If I struggle that night or something, I will go to him and he will give me advice. It is definitely an advantage.”
Rojas, Sr. pitched 10 season in the big leagues with five different teams. He compiled a career 3.82 ERA, a record of 34-31 and 126 saves.
Another aspect that is working for Rojas is youth with experience. At the age of 24, he already has over 720 plate appearances at AA or above. In those at bats, he is hitting .283 with an OBP of .344. This will be Rojas’ fifth different level in the organization in as many seasons.
Though Rojas does not strike out a lot, 37 times in 231 at bats in 2014, he also does not walk a lot. He has only walked 24 times this season.
This season, Rojas has seven stolen bases and has been caught four times. In 2012, he had 23 stolen bases, but was caught stealing 14 times. Since that season he has compiled 37 stolen bases and has been caught 20 times. Though his speed is clear, it does seem that Rojas does get caught stealing a fair amount.
To go along with the speed aspect, Rojas had 12 triples in 2012 with Bradenton and nine last season with Altoona.
As for his approach at the dish to accomplish these numbers, Rojas said that it doesn’t differ too much with the situation. He is consistently looking to knock the ball back up the middle for hits.
“I pretty much stay the same (on each side of the plate),” Rojas said. “I want to hit it up the middle…With men in scoring position, I try to stay middle to the other way with that fastball, so I have time to be on time with the hanging breaking ball or off speed.”
While Rojas is a switch hitter, most of his power this season has come from the left side. He has just a double and a home run, while hitting .264 from the right side in 53 at bats this season. In 170 at bats from the left side, he is hitting .316 with 10 doubles and four home runs.
In 2013, the ratio of doubles were about the same from each side of the plate, as he had 20 from the left and eight from the right, but he hit all of his triples (9) and all except one home run (4) from the left.
As for the defensive side of the game, Rojas is working on creating better angles to the ball and getting a good jump to let him take advantage of his speed in the field. Rojas also has a solid throwing arm, as he has earned 23 outfield assists in five seasons.
While Rojas does not appear to project as a starting outfielder in Pittsburgh long-term, he does have all of the tool necessary to make a nice fourth outfielder. Being a switch hitter, with speed makes him a nice candidate for the role.