"I'm the king of the jungle."
Lacking a top catching prospect since dealing Dioner Navarro in the Randy Johnson trade, the Yankees may look to Charleston backstop, Irwil Rojas to fill that void. Taking an aggressive, field general approach, Rojas may fit the bill. We talked to Irwil about that and much more. (Free Preview!)
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Touted for his receiving abilities and his truly spectacular knack for putting the ball in play, Irwil Rojas may be slowly, without the bells and the whistles, be turning into the top catching prospect in the Yankee farm system. In the process, he's also developed into one of the leaders of the 2005 Charleston RiverDogs.
Entering 2005, there weren't exactly high expectations pinned on Irwil Rojas. The Yankees expected him to put the ball in play and develop into an excellent receiver behind the plate. And, so far, he's done that and perhaps a little more. But, in Irwil's mind, there is still a lot more to come.
"Well I think this year has been good for me," Rojas told PinstripesPlus.com. "But, I think that I can be better because I still have a lot things to learn yet."
One thing Rojas has learned is how to handle a pitching staff, something he's done very well in only his first full season of professional baseball. However, as he says, there is still no exact science because every pitcher needs something a little different from their battery mate.
"It is hard to say that there is one strategy on how to handle a pitching staff," the Venezuelan native explained. "It's tough to say because every pitcher is different and just I try to be with them on every pitch. And, I make sure I let them know that I'm there for every pitch because they need be comfortable out there. So, I do everything I can to keep them comfortable."
"I think all of this pitching staff is very good," he went on to say. "They are all very impressive to me and I really like the whole staff."
One of the most important things in developing a young catcher is letting him play almost everyday. And, this season with Charleston, Rojas has gotten the nod for the majority of the RiverDog games. From a development standpoint, this could end up being the most important season for the lefty swinging catcher.
"Playing everyday as the catcher has definitely helped me, for sure," Rojas quickly responded. "Catching everyday, I have been learning something different with every pitcher, every time I go out there. Most importantly, I've learned how to call games in many different situations."
Learning everyday is important as Irwil explained. But, there is no better learning experience for a young catcher than the one Rojas had in spring training. Attending Yankees' big league spring training camp as a spare bullpen catcher, Irwil was taken under the wing of Jorge Posada, who he also became very close with in that time as well.
"He taught me everything about all parts of the game," he said with great respect and gratitude toward Posada. "He taught me things about catching, hitting, blocking, how to do different things in different situations, what pitch to call, everything. It was a great experience."
Perhaps Rojas' relationship with Posada is just the beginning. If all goes well with his career, Posada may end up as his on the job mentor. At this point, it may be too far in the future to consider, but Irwil understands the prestige of the position.
"I would like to take his spot one day," the 21 year old revealed. "I know he is a very good player and he is my friend as well. I know that if I take that spot, I have to be like him or better than him. I want to enjoy this game and be a good player like him or better."
One role that Irwil Rojas has embraced is being the leader and field general of the Charleston RiverDogs. He understands not only his responsibility behind the plate, but setting the tempo and attitude for the team as well.
"If I don't have energy behind the plate, the team is going to be like me," the young catcher pointed out. "So it is important how I play because I have to keep the team and all the players aggressive. If I don't call a good game, and I don't move, and I'm lazy, then I know for sure that the team is not going to be play well."
Rojas has taken his role to a new level, and as we've already mentioned, he's assumed the role of field general. And, as he says, he's ready for battle every time he steps on the diamond.
"My mentality is that we are lions," Rojas told PinstripesPlus.com. "So, when I take the field, I think I'm in the jungle and the other team are tigers. But, I'm the king of the jungle. So let's go. That's something I keep telling myself and I think it helps me." His aggressive approach doesn't end there. "I just like to play hard and be the killer out there and not the innocent," he closed.
It is certainly obvious that Rojas has an unmatched drive to lead his team each time they take the field. Not settling for anything less than an all out battle with the other team, the Venezuelan is truly showing the traits of a top catching prospect and, in that regard, he really may be "the king of the jungle."
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