‘It’s going to happen…’ KBO’s top hitter at one point, eventually reading the count of ‘all-out return’ on the Korean stage… Should I destroy the ecosystem again

Mel Rojas Jr. (33), a former MVP hitter who once bombed the KBO League and established himself as the best hitter in Japan, is expected to return to the Korean stage.

Mike Rodriguez of MLB Insider, a U.S. media outlet, said on his personal SNS (social network service) on the 6th (Korea time), “Mel Rojas Jr. has reached the stage of contract agreement with KT Wiz in the KBO League.” 파친코

Rojas is a very familiar player to KBO League fans. Rojas joined KT Wiz as a substitute foreign hitter in 2017, and has been living with KT players for four years. In the 2017 season, Rojas played in 83 games with a batting average of 0.301, 18 homers and 56 RBIs. In the 2018 season, he played in all games (144 games), posting a batting average of 0.305, 43 homers, 114 RBIs and 18 stolen bases. In the 2018 season, Rojas ranked second in runs scored (114 points), ninth in hits (172 hits), second in homers, seventh in RBIs, 10th in stolen bases (18), and second in walks (71).

In the 2019 season, Rojas also did his part with a batting average of 0.322 and 24 home runs and 104 RBIs in 142 games, two games short of the previous game. He also recorded a good record evenly, ranking seventh overall in batting average, third in hits (168), ninth in doubles (30), fifth in home runs and second in RBIs.

Rojas finally had the best year of his career, dominating the KBO league in the 2020 season. With a batting average of 0.349 in 142 games, Rojas posted 47 homers and 135 RBIs, becoming a four-time top hitter. He has become the best player representing the KBO league in terms of home runs and RBIs, as well as scoring 116 runs and slugging percentage (0.680). He ranks second overall with 192 hits, and sixth with 39 doubles. The honor of the MVP of the 2020 season has also been given to Rojas.

However, the last time he saw Rojas in Korea was in the 2020 season. During his four seasons in the KBO League, Rojas had a batting average of 0.321 (633 hits in 1971) with 132 homers, 126 doubles, eight triples, 350 runs scored with 409 RBIs, 208 walks with 27 steals (26 failure), 208 balls and 475 strikeouts. He has successfully hit .300 for four consecutive years. There was no way that the U.S. and Japan would watch a player who dominated the KBO League like Eric Peddy, who played for the NC Dinos this year. After all, Rojas wore the Hanshin Tigers uniform in the Japanese professional baseball league ahead of the 2021 season. Although KT suggested the highest amount ever for foreign batters, it could not overcome its competition with Japan in the so-called “money fight.” At that time, Rojas also headed to Japan, expressing that he wanted to play on a bigger stage.

Rojas, however, failed to make inroads into the Japanese pro baseball league. Rojas had a batting average of 0.217 with eight homers and an OPS (on-base plus slugging) of 0.663 in 60 games played in the Japanese pro baseball in the 2021 season. Due to prolonged slump, he even suffered humiliation as he moved to the second division during the league. In the 2022 season, he played in 89 games and posted an average batting average of 0.224, nine homers and an OPS of 0.732. He played in 149 games over the past two years, and posted an average of 17 homers. After all, Rojas had to pack forlornly due to expiration of his contract period ahead of the 2023 season.

What Rojas found were the Dominican Winter League and the Mexican League. There, Rojas did not give up and continued his career. First, in the Mexican League, Rojas seemed to regain his former prestige by appearing in 66 games and hitting 11 home runs. Recently, he has been playing hard for Tigress del Lisay of the Dominican Winter Baseball League. Rojas played in 34 games (32 hits in 113 times at bat) in the Dominican Winter League this season, posting seven doubles, one triple, five homers, 14 RBIs, 20 runs, 33 walks, 26 strikeouts, a slugging percentage of 0.496, an on-base percentage of 0.443, and an OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) of 0.939. In October, Japanese media FullCount highlighted Rojas’ performance and expressed surprise, saying, “Rohas is starting like a rocket in the Dominican Winter League.”

Actually, Rojas has already been one of the foreign players that KT is always paying attention to. “Rohas was one of the foreign players that I kept checking on. Our overseas scouting staff were always watching with interest. I am talking with him as one of the candidates for recruiting foreign batters.” KT once removed Anthony Ralford, a foreign hitter who had been with him for this season, from its list of pending players. Ralford played 133 games in the 2023 season and recorded a batting average of 0.289, 15 homers and 70 RBIs. However, he showed signs of instability in defense and faltered, and his contract renewal ended up failing.

And KT seems to have already started recruiting proven foreign hitter Rojas. During the course of this season, KT had a lot of fun when it re-introduced William Cuevas, who also played an active part in KT Wiz. Cuevas joined KT as a substitute in June this season, and started 18 games and posted an earned run average of 2.60 with 12 wins and no losses. While throwing a total of 114 ⅓ innings, he had 95 hits (four homers), 24 walks, 100 strikeouts, 33 runs (33 earned runs) and a hit rate of 1.04 WHIP (allowed on-base percentage per inning) and 0.224. He pitched 14 quality starts (less than three earned runs in six innings as a starter). Notably, after Cuevas joined KT, KT gained momentum and eventually finished the regular season in second place. Cuevas was the third player in history to win 100 percent of the winning rate, holding the KBO win rate in his arms. Cuevas was the first player who won the KBO win rate with no loss. Cuevas is also expected to remain with KT. “Cuevas agreed to a two-year contract worth 3 million U.S. dollars. There is an option for the second year,” Rodriguez said. In addition, KT is continuing positive talks with Wes Benjamin about renewing the contract. After joining KT as a foreign pitcher for William Cuevas in May last year, Benjamin started 29 games in the 2023 season with 15 wins, 6 losses and an earned run average of 3.54. He was the only player with multiple wins after Eric Peddy, who is set to return to the U.S. Major League. Over a total of 160 innings, he allowed 149 hits (12 homers) with 45 walks, 157 strikeouts, 79 runs, 63 earned runs, WHIP 1.21, and a 0.240. He has successfully pitched 11 quality starts.

Although Rojas did not perform well on the Japanese stage, he recently revived in the Dominican Winter League. Therefore, attention is focusing on whether Rojas will be able to destroy the ecosystem again in the KBO League. On top of that, there is no need for time to adapt to the Korean stage like Cuevas. Will KT be able to build a powerful firepower with Park Byung-ho and Kang Baek-ho by embracing Rojas again.

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