Better Served For The Back Of The Lineup?
"Splitsville" is a series of articles on the Yankees' prospects that we'll be doing throughout their minor league careers. In version one/chapter one (v1.1) of Irwil Rojas, we'll look how he did against the right-handed pitchers versus the southpaws, how he hit with runners in scoring position, and more.
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Keen Eye At The Plate: Since being signed as an international free agent out of Venezuela back in November of 2001, Irwil Rojas has displayed one of the better batting eyes at the plate, especially for a player with his "limited" experience. 2005 was his fourth profession season - although two were with the Dominican Summer League Yankees - and it was the third time in four years that Rojas drew more walks than he struck out. In fact, for his career, Rojas has 29 more walks than strikeouts! While he might not have the power desired, he has proven to be the ultimate contact hitter, striking out just 59 times in 782 career at-bats.
Sign Of Things To Come? Irwil Rojas finished the year with a solid .281 batting average in his first full season league. While that is certainly nothing to sneeze at, it was Rojas' amazing finish to the 2005 campaign that has the Yankees excited. Rojas hit .333 from July 1st until the end of the season, spanning his final 41 games with the Riverdogs.
He hit just .228 in his previous 43 games after beginning the year going 17-59 (.288) in his first 19 games. While it was kind of a see-saw year for Irwil Rojas, the fact that he made some key adjustments to hit over 100 points better down the stretch as the season wore on is a credit to his ability at the plate. And the Yankees are hoping Rojas' hot hitting in the second half is a spring board of things to come in 2006.
Home Cooking: Judging from Rojas' home versus road splits, it would appear at first glance that he favors hitting on the road. Rojas finished the year hitting 50 points higher away from Joseph P. Riley Park, home of the Charleston Riverdogs. He hit .307 on the road and just .257 at home. While the majority of his other numbers were pretty much even, hitting eight doubles on the road and eight at home, having two more RBI at home than on the road, and just three more runs scored on the road, his approach at the plate at home was significantly different.
Irwil Rojas drew twice as many walks at home (22) than he did on the road (11). In fact, his walk to strikeout ratio (1.47) at home was more in-line with his career mark than his 0.69 ratio in visiting South Atlantic League ballparks. So while the road average was seemingly more impressive, his approach at home was still very solid. It will be interesting to see if his ratios at home and on the road will stay consistent in the coming years.
Holds His Own: Rojas, a sweet-swing lefty, wound up hitting better against right-handed batters than he did against lefties in 2005, which isn't too surprising. However, Rojas proved he's still very good against southpaws as well, proving he is more than capable of holding his own against them.
He hit .283 against right-handed pitchers and .267 against lefties, not a demonstrative difference between the two sets of pitchers. In fact, his 16.6 extra-base hit percentage against lefties was only a shade lower than his 17.6 extra-base hit percentage against right-handed pitchers and Rojas had as many walks (5) against southpaws as he did strikeouts (5). The bottom line is that Irwil Rojas is equally effective against all pitchers, proving he is a professional hitter across the board.
Versatile Hitter: No matter the hitting situation in 2005, Irwil Rojas was pretty consistent. He hit .286 with the bases empty and .276 with runners on base. Rojas hit .267 when leading off an inning and .260 with runners in scoring position and with two outs. While his overall batting average with runners in scoring position (.241) was the lowest among all of his splits, Rojas showed the same consistent production in any hitting situation.
Rojas' approach with the bases empty was significantly different than in most other hitting situations this past season. He drew 22 of his 33 walks in 2005 with the bases empty. Throw in the fact that his batting average was its highest in those same spots, Rojas does show some slight favoritism towards being the "on-base" guy more so than the run producer.
The Dilemma: Irwil Rojas, with his contact hitting ability and preference batting with the bases empty, puts the Yankees in a tough spot. He doesn't have the speed to hit at the top of the lineup and he doesn't have the power to hit in the middle of it. Because of those reasons, Rojas accumulated just one at-bat batting higher than fifth in the Charleston lineup this past season.
Better suited for the bottom half of the batting order, Rojas' 2005 splits displayed some erratic tendencies. He hit a combined .320 batting either fifth or eighth in the Charleston lineup, but just .230 hitting sixth or seventh. With his lack of power it seems highly unlikely that he'll wind up batting fifth, no matter how high his average is in that spot. However, he could prove to be a very good eight or nine hitter in an American League lineup someday as a pseudo-leadoff hitter.
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