It's Time for Mel Rojas Jr. To Come Back StatesideBy Radar Rob | December 6th, 2020 | Discussion
After 4 productive seasons playing for the KT Wiz of the KBO, Mel Rojas Jr. has outperformed his competition to the point that warrants another go at the big leagues. The now 30 year-old switch-hitting right fielder took home the KBO League MVP award after putting up an ultra-elite wRC+ of 179, which encapsulates his 47 home runs, 135 RBI, and 192 hits over 142 games. His contract with the Wiz expired at the end of the season and now has the opportunity to either re-sign and continue being the big fish the little pond, or give the MLB one more shot in the style of Eric Thames a few years ago.
Yes, the KBO is a very hitter-friendly environment, however, Rojas Jr. has been in the elite, upper-echelon of performers in recent years, so on a relativity scale, the inflated counting stats are not solely the product of the KBO. Since the advanced fielding metrics are not calculated for the KBO, I'm going to make the assumption that Rojas Jr. is more than playable in a corner outfield position given that he was a center fielder as recently as 2019.
Rojas Jr. is not some out-of-nowhere player now. He is a former 3rd round pick of the Pirates out of Wabash Valley College in Illinois. He is the son of former big league closer Mel Rojas. And more notably, related to one of the greatest baseball families of all time: The Alou's.
We know that the KBO-to-MLB transition is not linear, but it's highly expected that negative regression in slash lines and counting stats take a hit, the question will be, how much of a hit? This is an important question because I believe it's less likely that teams looking to be World Series contenders in 2021 will roll the dice and rely on Rojas Jr. to hold down a corner outfield spot, be consistently productive on both sides of the ball. So competitive teams with seemingly wide open spots in the corner outfield like the White Sox, Indians, Astros, Nationals, and Cubs, may not choose to fill their hole(s) with Rojas Jr. At the same time however, there is a lack of intriguing right field options in the free agent market right now. Besides Springer, the next tier of right fielders consists of Reddick, Eaton, Puig, and Renfroe really. Brantley, Ozuna, Schwarber, and Rosario are really limited to left field and/or DH.
I find it far more likely that if Rojas Jr. were to test the waters, he'd end up with a 2 or 3 year deal with a relatively uncompetitive team. I have the Pirates, Rangers, and Tigers mostly in mind.
The Pirates could fit where Reynolds moves to center for a year, Rojas Jr. plays left field until Polanco has his club option declined, then Reynolds would move back to left, Rojas Jr. would move to right and either Jared Oliva or Travis Swaggerty would take over in center field. I classify the Pirates as an uncompetitive team, but on paper, they aren't all that bad. I think 2020 was more of a case of good players having bad seasons as opposed to bad players having bad seasons. I expect Bell, Frazier, and Reynolds to bounce back, along with Taillon, Kuhl, and a couple of free agent signings. Adding a potentially productive Rojas Jr. to the mix could make this team a fringe playoff contender.
The Rangers would be interesting. A hole could open up in right field with a trade of Joey Gallo. But even if that doesn't happen, I prefer Solak at second base over Odor, and then Rojas Jr. would cover left field. Honestly, I see the entire Rangers team as giant stopgap to the Jung-Foscue-Crouse-Heriberto era. So, a Rojas Jr. signing fitting that timeframe. I am worried that the KBO-to-MLB statistical drop-off will be exacerbated by the cavernous dimensions of Globe Life Park. Not a single regular on the 2020 Rangers offense posted a wRC+ above 100.
The Tigers are in a similar position as the Rangers, except I see Detroit as being a couple of years ahead in terms of competitiveness, with the pitching core of Mize, Manning, Skubal, and Faedo close to or at the major league level. They are going to need an offense around Torkelson to give that talented pitching run support.
UPDATE: The Yomiuri Giants are close to signing Mel Rojas Jr.
UPDATE #2: Mel Rojas Jr. tweets at Daniel Kim that rumors of a close Yomiuri Giants signing is "False News".
UPDATE #3: Jon Morosi reports that Rojas Jr. is signing a two-year deal with the Hanshin Tigers of the NPB.
Seiya Suzuki is the Best Player You Don't Know YetBy Radar Rob | September 9th, 2020 | Discussion
Let's introduce the best player you haven't heard of yet: Seiya Suzuki. He is a 25 year-old right-handed-hitting right fielder currently playing for the Hiroshima Carp. Right now, I am touting him as the Japanese version of Mookie Betts. It's a hot take, I know, but the numbers and skills are all there. Let's check out the numbers from the last three years in the NPB.
Well that's pretty darn good. What really stands out above all else is the impressive on-base percentage from 2019. The 103:81 walk-strikeout ratio, and the 28 home runs in 2019 is indicative that Suzuki needs to test his skills stateside. He also plays a gold glove-caliber right field and has some speed on the the base paths. Albeit, the stolen base success rate isn't great, but the 25 stolen bases do show that Suzuki has speed as a tool.
2020 hasn't been a particularly fantastic year for Japanese hitters recently signed. Out of Shogo Akiyama, Yoshi Tsutsugo, and Shohei Ohtani, neither player is hitting above .225 and only Tsutsugo has an above average wRC+ at 107 at the time this article was written. Translating NPB statistics over to the MLB isn't an exact science, as there are several factors causing variability, including the cultural differences and style of play adjustment. Now, all three of the aforementioned Japanese players were all great hitters in the NPB. However, none of those players had an elite BB-K rate, while hitting for average and power too, only Suzuki has done that.
Where does Suzuki fit? There isn't much information on the potential posting of Suzuki yet, so there is no word of location preference in the United States. If he is similar to Ohtani and desires to play his home games on the west coast, there aren't many great fits assuming the players under contract for the next few years are not traded or released. The Angels, who recently signed Shohei Ohtani out of the NPB a few years ago, will deploy Upton, Trout, and Adell in the outfield for the next few years at least, and if Ohtani is not able to pitch again, the Angels might consider moving him to the outfield to maximize his athleticism and to free up the DH slot, after Upton's contract expires at the end of the 2022 season. The Mariners, another team known for signing Japanese-born talent, may not want to block any of their young stud outfield prospects to keep the future outfield vision of Lewis-Kelenic-Rodriguez in tact. The Giants have a crowded outfield, with Heliot Ramos getting closer and closer to the big leagues. The Padres, Dodgers, and Athletics have Myers, Betts, and Piscotty under contract, respectively. The Astros could be a fit, with Reddick departing for free agency at the end of this year, Tucker likely occupying left field with Alvarez in the DH spot. This is assuming there are still going to compete with Correa, Verlander, McCullers Jr., and Greinke reaching free agency in 2021-22 offseason. There is a potential fit with the Rangers too, however, the overall talent and ability to contend is not nearly as high as the Astros, for at least for a few years, assuming Suzuki wishes to sign with an immediate contender.
For me, the best fit is the Indians. Again, to me, it's unclear when Suzuki will be posted exactly, but I'm hoping at least by the 2021-22 offseason. With Francisco Lindor likely being traded or signed elsewhere, the Indians are going to need offense to be able to score runs for their electric, young, controllable pitching staff. Carlos Santana's relatively high-priced contract is going to expire by then, and Jose Ramirez's team friendly contract includes two club options for 2022 and 2023. Franmil is mashing in 2020, so hopefully, the Indians can rely on that production going forward. Nolan Jones is getting closer and could come up in 2021, moving Jose Ramirez to second base. Recently acquired Owen Miller could supplant Lindor at shortstop, if Miller continues to hit, and if Tyler Freeman is not quite ready yet. Other than that, the Indians potential lineup lacks depth and star power. Granted by this point, the Indians should have the financial freedom payroll to sign a productive free agent or trade for productive player with a higher-than-average salary, with Santana and Lindor presumably off the books. Suzuki will give the Indians a much needed bat and presence in the lineup. He also most likely will not sign a Masahiro Tanaka-type contract. I see the AAV being in the 12-15 million dollar range, which is doable for Cleveland. All in all, whichever team is able to sign Seiya Suzuki, I think that team is getting a star. Check out his highlights above!