Mel Rojas Jr had a nifty piece of hitting in the tenth inning last night, which ended up winning the game for Indianapolis. He squares around to bunt, but as the pitch comes, he pulls the bat back and lines a game-winning double down the third base line. Since being called up to Indianapolis, Rojas has a .287/.373/.381 slash line in 57 games.
One problem with his game has always been too many strikeouts and not enough walks. His career BB/SO ratios aren’t the worst you’ll see, but they definitely could have used improvements coming into this season and it looks like it’s something Rojas has been working on. On Friday, he set a season-high when he drew his 47th walk. He is probably going to set a career-low in season strikeouts, barring a poor ending to the year. Rojas has already topped his career-best in homers with seven and he’s driven in more runs this year than ever before, showing a knack for hitting in the clutch.
While he hasn’t had the break out season that Andrew Lambo had last year, Rojas has still shown that he has Major League potential and could soon see time with the Pirates as a fourth outfielder that can play all three positions, add speed off the bench and he hits from both sides of the plate.
Elias Diaz went 3-for-3 on Saturday, driving home three runs, including two on the double shown below that scored Alen Hanson and Josh Bell. The 23-year-old catcher continues to impress this year, both at the plate and behind it, where his defense is rated above average. Diaz is hitting .320 with an .800 OPS. He ranks third in the Eastern League in batting average and leads all Altoona hitters in that category.
Diaz got a lucky break this year, though it was a bad break for Carlos Paulino, who is now relegated to the back-up role. Paulino is also a strong defensive catcher, who looked like he was on his way to a Major League job at some point, serving as a strong defensive back-up. He started the year at Indianapolis while Tony Sanchez was with the Pirates, which opened up a full-time spot for Elias Diaz with Altoona. Paulino got sent back to Altoona, but immediately hurt his knee and missed a full month, then went to the GCL for rehab and got plunked in the head during his first plate appearance, which cost his some more time. That gave Diaz time to play everyday and he has continued to hit all year, which has limited the chances for Paulino, who is a year older and doesn’t have the bat that Diaz does.
Diaz has now moved up the depth chart at catching and looks like he could be a valuable back-up someday. He will need to be added to the 40-man roster this off-season and it’s likely he will see full-time duty at Indianapolis next year. It’s also likely that both Rojas and Diaz will play Winter Ball this off-season, as both did last year and it will be interesting to follow along if they do. Players in the Dominican and Venezuela get playing time based on skill and performance, not whether they need to get time in, so if you can’t keep up with the level of play, you don’t play often. The teams are there to win, so while we call it Winter Ball, it’s actually their regular season. Both players saw decent playing time(Rojas arrived late, but played everyday once he did), so they should see plenty of time this year as well.
John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.
When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.