Scouting Yankee Prospect #49: Irwil Rojas

Irwil Rojas Has Become A Great Contact Hitter

In a farm system that lacks depth behind the plate, Irwil Rojas has quickly become one of the organization's top catching prospects. With his outstanding contact hitting ability, leadership skills, and improving defense, Irwil is making a name for himself at the age of 21. For all those reasons and more, he is our Yankees' prospect #49.

Vital Statistics:
Name: Irwil Rojas
Position: Catcher
DOB: August 11, 1984
Height: 6' 1"
Weight: 175
Bats: Left
Throws: Right

It has been a quiet, yet steady climb for Irwil Rojas in his first two professional seasons on United States soil. He was solid with the Gulf Coast Yankees in 2004 as a rookie ball player, and showed continued improvement in several facets of the game with the Charleston RiverDogs in 2005. The statistics have not been flashy, but Irwil has shown that he is a Major League caliber player with more refining of his tools and experience.

After the Gulf Coast League season ended for Rojas in 2004, he was off to the Venezuelan winter league, where he would play in the "liga paralela" (a minor league in Venezuela). It was there that he showed how much potential he may truly have, batting .336 in 125 at bats. Not to mention, he didn't not strike out once in that span.

"Yes, I did very well," Rojas told PinstripesPlus.com. "I felt like I was at 100% strength and I am very happy with my performance. The competition is like the Gulf Coast League, but better because there are older guys also."

Coming off such a strong performance and a solid Spring Training, of which he spent some time in big league camp, the Venezuelan native was suddenly a shoe-in for the starting catcher's job with the Charleston RiverDogs. And, to his credit, he performed very well in his big chance in full season ball. He also has a very unique and excellent attitude toward his job behind the plate.

"Well I think this year has been good for me," Rojas told us near the end of the 2005 season. "But, I think that I can be better because I still have a lot things to learn yet. If I don't have energy behind the plate, the team is going to be like me. 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."

Perhaps the most important things in developing a young catcher are letting him play on a regular basis and allowing him to gain experience as many games as possible. And, this past season with Charleston, Rojas got the nod for the majority of the RiverDogs' games. From a player development standpoint, this could end up being the most important season for the strong armed 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."

During his time in big league spring training, Irwil Rojas made a friend and possibly a mentor for many years. Star Yankee catcher, Jorge Posada, took young Irwil under his wing, teaching many of the tools of the trade. And, let it be known the Rojas soaked in every word.

"He (Posada) taught me everything about all parts of the game," he said with great respect and gratitude towards 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."

Year

Team

AVG

AB

2B

HR

RBI

R

SB

BB

SO

OBP

SLG

2005

Riverdogs

.281

345

16

1

44

37

2

33

31

.345

.336

2004

Gulf Coast

.253

91

4

0

13

7

1

4

7

.303

.319



Batting and Power. As of now, Irwil Rojas has not discovered his power stroke. His swing is level and contact, and better built for contact than towering home runs. However, with his solid frame, you'd have to believe that there is some solid power yet to come. As we've touched on, contact hitting is his specialty. In the future, he could serve as an excellent hit and run candidate with his superior bat control. He is not afraid to take the ball to the opposite field and you'll never catch him swinging out of his shoes. When you put the ball in play and stay within yourself, good things will happen. Good things also happen when you strike out less than you walk.

Base Running and Speed. Irwil Rojas will never be guilty of being a speedster on the base paths, that's for sure. While he is not the slowest player in the world, his wheels are definitely below average. The young Venezuelan doesn't profile as a stolen base threat, but he knows what he is doing on the base paths. Not only that, but he is agile with good reactions behind the dish.

Defense. Constantly striving to improve behind the plate, Rojas has developed into an excellent defensive catcher. When the Yankees initially signed him, he was throwing 84 MPH from the mound, and the Yankees spotted his potential behind the dish. Needless to say, he has a very strong arm as well. His leadership skills and "take charge" approach are something you can't teach a young ballplayer. Rojas profiles as a top notch defender.

Projection. At the age of 21, our projection of Rojas is much more clearer than it would have been after the 2004 season. He has further developed his skills as a catcher and his offensive promise is beginning to show. As of now, he may not profile as the next star catcher to don the Yankee pinstripes; however, he does have the look of a solid big league backstop. More power is sure to come, but he profiles to hit 10-15 home runs annually. However, he may be able to hit around .290 at the big league level.

ETA. Late 2009. It is far too early in Irwil's young career to determine how long it would take him to arrive at the big league level. However, if all goes according to plan, it looks as if the Yankees are taking it slow and steady with him. And, in all likelihood, that trend will continue. Look for him to be the opening day catcher for the Tampa Yankees in 2006.

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