In the winter of 2014, the state of the Miami Marlins was not the strongest. The team had just lost 80+ games for the fifth straight season and its minor league system ranked in the bottom five league wide. Rather than try to build the minor league system back up, the team doubled down on Giancarlo Stanton who they signed to a 13 year deal and recently promoted prospects Christian Yelich and JT Realmuto. During the season, they traded away what little they had left in their minor league system, names such as Jake Marisnick, Colin Moran and Jacob Turner. In the offseason, they parted with Kike Hernandez (who they had acquired earlier that same year), Andrew Heaney, Anthony DeSclafani, Austin Barnes and others.
The return pieces were almost all established major leaguers. The club brought in names such as Dee Gordon, Dan Haren, Mat Latos, David Phelps and others.
Thrown in as what was thought to be a deal sweetener in a seven player deal with the Dodgers that brought the first two of those names to Miami was a 25-year-old Venezuelan Miguel Rojas, a versatile middle infielder with a questionable bat. Rojas, at the time, was not considered to hold much weight as a prospect.
Upon his arrival in Miami, another veteran trade return piece and the guy that turned out to be the honorary captain of the Marlins between the years of 2016-2019, Martin Prado took it upon himself to take Rojas under his wing in every aspect of the game. In his first year as a Marlin, Rojas hit .282/.329/.366. After Prado’s retirement two years ago, there was only one obvious choice to take up the reigns the club’s captain: Prado’s heir apparent Miguel Rojas.
Now, on his 32nd birthday and with the organization going in a completely different direction than it was going in when he came to Miami, Rojas is thriving both in his role as a leader and in his role as a player.
In terms of his play on the field and on how he was able to post a .304/.392/.496 stat line while leading the Marlins to their first playoff berth in 17 years last season, Rojas credits his younger teammates. According to Rojas, being on the field with younger guys has kept his body healthy and fresh. Rojas says heading into 2021 he is in a great place.
“I feel like all of these young players and young talent get me younger and pushing me harder to get better. I’m not getting younger, I’m getting older but the last few years I feel like I’m getting better,” Rojas said to the media on Tuesday. “My first five years in the big leagues I wasn’t an every day player so now having the opportunity to play every day. I have a task on me and I have to prepare so I prepared to play this year for 162 games.”
But Rojas’ thoughts are rarely of himself. Rather, they are on the future of this Marlins organization and how he can ensure a successful future for it.
“That’s one of my goals. Whether I’m in this organization or somewhere else, I just want to help the younger guys in understanding how they need to prepare,” Rojas said. “How they need to eat, how they need to rest. All of that kind of stuff that Prado told me when I got here in 2015 and my first time actually seeing how a big leaguer prepares for the full season. That’s what I want to take to the younger guys.”
This offseason, Rojas was seen on social media working out regularly with one of the youngest prospects in the Marlins’ organization, 19-year-old Victor Mesa Jr. According to Rojas, those workouts weren’t spontaneous or accidental but rather part of his plan to impart as much knowledge as possible on him which he hopes Victor will carry with him and share with his teammates in the lower levels of Minor League Baseball.
“My philosophy is… let’s say like I took Victor Mesa Jr. this year and Victor Mesa Jr. goes and plays in low A, high A, wherever he’s going to play, guys are going to follow him,” Rojas said. “They’re going to see how Mesa is preparing. That’s creating a culture. That’s creating a bond.”
Rojas stated that, if circumstances allot, he wants to work with a different prospect every offseason to create as many future quality big leaguers as possible both on the field and off of it.
“I’m looking forward to doing it with a different guy, hopefully every offseason if they’re local in Miami,” Rojas said. “I’m excited to keep building that culture in this organization.”
Through everything the Marlins accomplished last season and through everything the team will accomplish in the future, Rojas has and will continue to have his fingerprint on it. For that reason, Rojas and the immeasurable work he is doing in the Marlins organization as well as in the community cannot possibly be overstated.
He was already the unquestionable leader of this Marlins team at the Major League level but now, through his fingerprint at the minor league level, as selfless as Rojas is, he is making his mark throughout the rest of the organization as well as in the community and in he plans to continue to do so.
Someday, the first player jersey will rise to the rafters at Marlins Park. Although his playing career is not yet over, Miguel Rojas’ number 19 is already a very qualified candidate.