Miguel Rojas admits that he is unlikely to have a future as a baseball scout. Entering the 2013 season, Marlins outfielder Christian Yelich was widely regarded as one of the very best prospects in the sport. But when Rojas got to see the then-21-year-old up close during a series in April, “Yeli didn’t really impress me that much,” he says on Monday’s episode of The Chris Rose Rotation.
Yelich was playing center field during those five games between the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp and Chattanooga Lookouts (April 20-24, 2013). At the plate, he went 5-for-22 with 10 strikeouts (41.7 K%). Underwhelming!
However, context is important. That happened to be Yelich’s very first series at the Double-A level. Over the next three months, he established himself among the league’s most productive hitters and earned a promotion to the big leagues. Two years later, they became teammates on the Marlins, and by then, Rojas says “he was a totally different dude.”
Rojas and Yelich were together on the Marlins from 2015-2017, during which time the latter began to live up to his first-round draft pick hype. Yelich slashed .293/.371/.447 with a team-leading 437 total games played, received an NL Silver Slugger award and averaged about four wins above replacement per season.
Yelich did most of his offensive damage away from Miami. Even now, he laments all the extra-base hits that were taken away from him by LoanDepot Park’s once-cavernous dimensions.
“That place sucks,” Yelich says. “I can say it now, but that place sucks. It’s a nice stadium. I definitely loved my time there, but as far as trying to be a hitter there, it’s not a great time unless you’re Giancarlo (Stanton) or it doesn’t really matter.”
Since being traded to the Brewers in 2018, Yelich has reached a new peak. He was the near-unanimous pick for NL MVP in his debut season with them. Overall, he has posted a .294/.395/.545 slash line and 17.7 fWAR/15.9 rWAR en route to four straight postseason berths. He inked a $215 million extension with Milwaukee, easily the largest contract in the franchise’s history.
Rojas admires Yelich for his intangibles, too:
“You really can learn from Yelich and I invite a lot of people to watch the way Yelich plays the game. He’s always gonna run hard, he’s always gonna teach you and he’s gonna really be a leader by example. That’s what a lot of people like when they play with him. Not to be considered a leader because he talks and gels with everybody—actually, he don’t really talk. But at the end of the day, he’s a leader and one of the best leaders I’ve ever played with.”
When the Marlins snapped their own postseason drought in 2020, Yelich says he was “happy” for Rojas, Don Mattingly and his other ex-teammates.