Pirates outfield prospect Mel Rojas Jr. has roots in Indianapolis -- sort of. He was born in Indianapolis May 24, 1990, and his father, the Dominican pitcher Mel Rojas, pitched for Indy in 1990 and 1991 as a farmhand in the Expos system.
"A few fans tell me about it," the younger Rojas says. "He [Rojas' father] tells me how cool it is that he played here and then I get to play here with the same team."
When the Pirates picked Rojas in the third round in 2010, it set in motion a chain of events that led him back to Indianapolis, as he finally received a promotion from Double-A in May. Rojas has taken a rather slow route through the minors, generally moving up one level per year. Kyle Stark points out that switch-hitters might sometimes need a bit more development time, since they don't get as many repetitions from each side as a hitter who only bats right or left. Rojas has taken a nice step forward this season, though, dramatically improving his strikeout and walk numbers in his second go-around at Altoona before being promoted to Triple-A.
"I just got more mature," Rojas says. He says he spent the offseason working on hitting line drives and improving his plate approach. Despite being a big, athletic player, he still doesn't have much home-run power. But his work seems to be paying dividends -- his .379 OBP at Altoona this season was by far the highest of his career, and he's continued to get on base at Indianapolis, with a .361 OBP there.
Rojas is also trying to approach his plate appearances more intelligently, focusing on pitch selection in particular. Just before last weekend's series in Columbus, Indianapolis played a home series against the Clippers, and Rojas is taking opportunities like that to get settled in against another team's pitching staff. (Indianapolis also played Durham eight times in June.) Rojas' experience at Triple-A is still limited, but he's getting the opportunity to get used to facing certain teams and to figure out how they're going to approach him. From there, he can make adjustments.
"I kind of have an idea how they're going to pitch to me, so I'm just going to be ready for a mistake and try to put a good swing on it," he says, noting that pitchers like to throw him lots of offspeed stuff.
With Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen and Gregory Polanco in the big-league outfield, it might be hard for Rojas to get a word in edgewise, although, as a switch-hitter with the ability to play center field, he could end up being a nifty fourth outfielder. Ask Rojas how he sees his future in Pittsburgh, though, and he'll answer the way most players do, pointing out that it doesn't make sense to worry about what you can't control.
"I really don't care if it's crowded. I don't even think about that," Rojas says. "I just come here every day and work hard. ... I'm ready. It's up to the bosses here to call me up whenever they think I'm ready."