Last year Mel Rojas Jr. made it known that he wanted back in Major League Baseball.
Stories surfaced from the usual gaggle of international reporters about his desire to sign an MLB contract. Those report were more ubiquitous than they had been the previous offseason and for a hot minute, it seemed like Rojas might be garnering some traction in making his wish come true.
Then reality set in, and all thirty MLB teams spurned him; in fact, Rojas didn’t even receive a minor league contract. Just like that the, then, 29-year-old found himself headed back to South Korea for another season.
Rojas may have made noise about wanting another shot in Major League Baseball, but he had never actually played in an MLB game.
Mel Rojas’ son had been a well-thought-of prospect who flamed out before ever breaking out of the minors. After his fall from grace Rojas went and made a name for himself in the Korea Baseball Organization. That’s why he was MLB or bust during the last offseason. He wasn’t going to come back on anything but an MLB deal, he knew he had earned it and surely some team would jump at the chance to at least give him a shot?
They didn’t and Rojas found himself wearing the black, red, and white of a KT Wiz uniform once more in 2020. He could have taken the MLB rebuke hard and produced a poor season in South Korea. Instead, he dominated the league and win Most Valuable Player honors. In the process of doing so he gained traction in the eyes of the public (thanks largely to his dominance when the KBO was getting more North American press early in the season). Rojas is hot off obliterating KBO pitching and wants some MLB team to give him a chance to do the same in 2021.
The main reason that MLB teams so easily turned their backs on Rojas in the winter months of 2019-2020 is the stigma that accompanied the KBO switching baseball. Teams were concerned about the fact that his production had supposedly dipped slightly in 2019 when the KBO switched from a rabbit ball to a much deader baseball.
For context, in 2018 Rojas slashed .305/.388/.590 with a WRC+ of 138 and a kWAR (WAR as provided for the KBO by STATIZ) of 5.6. When the ball switched he put up .321/.380/.527 with a WRC+ of 150 and a kWAR of 5.4. Yes, you are seeing those numbers correctly. With a ball that stifled KBO offense significantly, Rojas put up very similar numbers to when the ball was live. He even improved in a few offensive categories and well, that shouldn’t have happened with a deadened baseball.
One can’t blame Rojas for being surprised when the reasons he was given for not having any MLB suitors didn’t make much sense. The only possible solution was for Rojas to play even better in 2020 and that is exactly what he did al season. A .349/.417/.680 slash line with a WRC+ of 180 and 7.8 kWAR is a dream line. He didn’t just improve, Rojas looked downright dangerous at the plate throughout the season. At one point he was neck and neck with Roberto Ramos for the MVP and just like that Rojas turned another gear and left Ramos in his wake. When the Wiz were eliminated from the playoffs Rojas had to believe that he had done enough to get an MLB team to sign him.
Any MLB team could use a bat like Rojas’. It’s understandable that these teams have questions about his bat translating from the KBO to the big leagues. There are recent, prominent, examples of KBO sluggers not carrying anywhere near the same production into their MLB careers. All the same, none of them are Mel Rojas Jr. and he deserves a shot based on his year-by-year progression of getting better in the KBO. Rojas’ bat should produce against MLB pitching, all it will take is one MLB team to give him the shot he’s been desperately seeking for some time now.