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2021 Marlins Season Preview: Miguel Rojas

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Rojas continues to raise the bar for himself.

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Boston Red Sox v Miami Marlins Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

He is your captain in every way but title. He’s your longest tenured Marlin as a representative of Miami since 2015. He’s your starting shortstop and the epitome of what it is to be a competitor, athlete and leader.

On the field, Miguel Rojas has grown much as a player since he was acquired as the least-heralded part of the Dan Haren and Dee Strange-Gordon blockbuster. His inclusion in the trade was first mentioned by longtime writer Joe Frisaro.

As an international signee out of Venezuela at 16 years of age, Rojas has been an exceptional athlete since childhood and this is a time in Miguel’s life I’d like to learn more about. From then on he gradually worked his way to the Major Leagues without ever gaining much acclaim as a prospect. Even now, he lacks the raw power and speed that typically leads to the sort of “fantasy baseball stats” that show up in a box score and can be recognized by literally anyone who watches a game.

Miguel’s story is one of hard work, competitive drive, leadership and a genuine brightness of character. To watch him play is to see a ballplayer that is simply a great ballplayer with a strong athletic ability and solidly refined skills.

After a couple of years as a utility player planted firmly behind the defensively gifted Adeiny Hechavarría on the depth chart, the Marlins’ rebuild created the opportunity for expanded playing time. In 2018, when fans doubted his future with the organization he led the league in GIDP (grounding into double plays) and seemed as perhaps a second fiddle to JT ‘The Riddler’ Riddle. In 2018 Sam Golub of Fish Stripes wrote, “Not that Rojas has done anything wrong; Riddle has simply surpassed him as the team’s best current shortstop candidate.” A valid opinion at the time, but Rojas wasn’t done ascending yet.

Miggy has brought his energy to the team even before he was the player he is today.
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Here we are in 2021 and over the years, Rojas has developed and refined his abilities and heads into the season as an above average defensive player as well as one of the toughest outs in the Major Leagues. A quick glance at Baseball-Reference shows us that Miguel Rojas was the 2020 league leader in Total Zone Runs as a shortstop, and there’s enough of a track record to believe it wasn’t some abbreviated season fluke. Miggy can field with the best of ‘em.

Miguel Rojas’ 2020 offensive season visualized

Per Baseball Savant we see a player who rarely strikes out. He does not swing and miss, he will take a walk and despite low barrel rates and generally weak contact and lacking the athleticism to out-run the ball to first, Rojas always makes it a battle in the batter’s box. Regardless of sample size, it was a terrific feat for him to hit .304/.392/.496, good for a 142 wRC+ in 2020.

Now a realistic expectation might be for some amount of regression in 2021. Last season looks like an outlier compared to his career .266/.319/.358 slash line and 85 wRC+. For reference his ZiPS projected slash line for 2021 is .270/.331/.377 which would be a 89 wRC+. While projection systems are a valuable tool in player assessment, they do not show the full picture.

Here’s a game in 2020. Due to rescheduling that took place following their COVID-19 outbreak, the Marlins were playing their 12th game in 10 days. They had just been swept by the eventual AL Champion Tampa Bay Rays at home and had to travel from Miami to New York for a single afternoon game before turning around and heading back home to face the Toronto Blue Jays.

Before they did that, they had to face the actually elite Jacob deGrom for the 4th time that month. It certainly felt like a make-or-break moment for a team that had just dropped to 14-15 on the year. Would the Marlins have what it takes to succeed under so much emotional and physical exhaustion?

Rojas did.

It doesn’t require a lot of expertise to see a man who is solidly working on his craft, getting better with age and coming to the field every day to win. He just isn’t the same player some thought he was a stopgap in his 20s—he has made adjustments. Even with the talented, toolsy Jazz Chisholm waiting in the wings, Rojas’ role on the roster is not in doubt.

As the Miami Marlins are coming off of a playoff appearance, expect to hear a lot from Miguel Rojas nationally. He’s the players union’ rep for the Marlins, an often media-facing spokesperson for the team and now one of the rotating co-hosts on The Chris Rose Rotation podcast.

Once again in 2021, it’s Miguel Rojas’ competitive energy leading the charge onto the field. He was a key to this organization’s rise from #BottomFeeders to the 2020 NLDS and will be instrumental in sustaining that success. It would be naive to call him a superstar, but there’s no sign of this 32-year-old slowing down.

With at least 500 plate appearances and a healthy finish to this season, the 2022 club option in Rojas’ contract (worth $5.5 million) becomes guaranteed. Even if he falls short of that threshold due to injury or inconsistency, Marlins fans overwhelmingly hope to see him remain with the Fish for another year and for whatever remains of his career beyond that.