A Conversation With Marlins Shortstop Miguel Rojas

Miguel Rojas has come a long way since signing with the Cincinnati Reds out of Venezuela in 2005. Six years removed from being acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers, the 31-year-old shortstop is the heart and soul of a Miami Marlins team that is playing in October for the first time since 2003. A plus defender, Rojas is coming off a season where he slashed .304/.392/.496 and put up a 142 wRC+.

His off-the-field presence is every bit as impactful as what he provides between the white lines. Equal parts engaging and cerebral, Rojas isn’t just a leader in the clubhouse — he’s the Marlins’ player representative. That respect is well-earned, and it’s also a subject well-worth addressing. This interview, which took place at the end of September, focuses on precisely that.

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David Laurila: You went from a 16-year-old kid in Venezuela to not only a big-league shortstop, but also your team’s player rep. What was that path like for you?

Miguel Rojas: “It was a long road, man. You become a professional baseball player — that’s what you want to do — and you want to be a complete professional. You want to cover every area, and for me one of those areas was learning a new culture in the United States. It was learning the language and being able to have relationships with guys from different parts of the world. That’s something I focused my attention on, early in my career, when I was with the Reds.

“I had an opportunity to be with a great organization — the Reds — and after seven years with them I went to the Dodgers, who are another great organization. Then I got traded here. So my path kind of helped me to become the player, and person, that I am right now. It’s not just the baseball player, or the starting shortstop, that I always envisioned [myself] to be… I always wanted to be a starting shortstop, but all of a sudden I began earning the respect from my teammates, and from the people who run the organization. I think that’s because I put the time in to get to know the people that I work with.”

Laurila: How much English did you speak when you first came the U.S.?

Rojas: “It was really slim. I learned some things in high school, but I wasn’t able to maintain a conversation for a long time. It was more like knowing what people were saying. It was really hard for me to have a conversation with someone in the real world.”

Laurila: When did you begin to feel comfortable with English?

Rojas: “I’d say it was when I was 20, about a year and a half after coming to the States. My first year, I played in Billings, Montana. I got the opportunity to come to the United States, go to extended spring training, and then they sent me to short-season, in Billings. I was with a family that could speak a little bit of Spanish, and they helped me a lot with my English. After that year, I started to feel comfortable speaking English with my coaches and teammates. From there, I just kept practicing.”

Laurila: You batted .180 in Billings. Combine that with working hard to learn a new language, it couldn’t have been an easy season.

Rojas: “Yeah, it was tough. But to be honest with you, I was really focusing on baseball, trying to be the best player I could and exceeding the expectations the organization had for me. One of the things about batting average, and the offensive part, is that I’m a guy that people can rely on, because… I mean, you don’t really have to be an offensive force. The game of baseball is about being a complete player. You can play defense. If you’re not producing at the plate, you can be a good defensive player and still be valuable for our organization.

“After that .180 year, I got called up to to the next level the next year. Just because I didn’t hit didn’t mean that I wasn’t productive. I continued to grow, and they gave me the opportunity to keep moving on. But again, I was dealing with a lot, because I was young and trying to learn the new culture; I was relying a lot on my teammates to help me keep getting better. That’s one of the things that I’m always going to remember. I mean, if you can do it on one side of the ball, you can do it on the other side. Being a good teammate is a huge part of that.”

Laurila: When did you become the Marlins’ player rep?

Rojas: “This happened for the first time in 2017. At the time we were in transition. A lot of people got traded. The reps before me got traded to another organization, or their contracts were up and they didn’t sign back here. I remember that we were
in St. Louis. The Players Association came to the clubhouse and said, ‘OK we want to take a vote to see who’s going to be the player rep for you guys.’ Cameron Maybin was the guy who said, ‘I’m going to nominate Miguel Rojas. He’s the guy who has been here. He’s the guy who knows this clubhouse.’

“And the guys voted for me. When you earn the respect from your teammates, they give you the opportunity to be the rep, not just because of what you can do on the field, but what you can do to help them off the field, as well.”

Laurila: Are there other Latin American player reps around the two leagues?

Rojas: “Yes. Elvis Andrus is actually one of the leadership-group guys — not just for the Texas Rangers, but for the whole group of players. He’s on the players’ council. He’s a guy who is well respected in the game, and is involved with everything that is going on in the Players Association.

“It’s really important to have a Latin player that is actually vocal, and is involved with everything that’s going on, not just with the negotiations, but with everything you need. He always makes you feel like you have representation. Elvis is a great representative.

“Some other guys who are always involved are Albert Pujols, Nelson Cruz, and Yadier Molina. The Cleveland Indians have Francisco Lindor as their rep. So we’ve got a couple of guys who are representing Latin America, and Latin American players, in the Players Union.”

Laurila: Changing direction, every year you go back to Venezuela to play winter ball with Tiburones de La Guaira. Why?

Rojas: “I feel like I’m the player I am right now thanks to my experience in winter ball in Venezuela. If I didn’t play all the baseball that I play in Venezuela — all of the meaningful games for an organization over there — I maybe wouldn’t have gotten to the place that I’m at right now. So for me, it’s wanting to give back, not only to the organization, but to the fans, my family, and my friends in Venezuela.

“I don’t have the opportunity to go back to Venezuela very often now, but I feel the necessity of… you know what? This is my job — this is what I do for a living — and I want to give everything that I have, in my baseball career, to baseball. And not just in the United States, but to Venezuela, too. My team in winter ball is important for me, because they opened the door for me when I was a player searching for what was going to happen in the big leagues, in my career in the United States. They kept the doors open for me when I was a young player. Now that I’m in the middle of my career, having success in the best league in the world, I want to go back and and show that I care about them.”

Laurila: Which major league players did you idolize, growing up in Venezuela?

Rojas: “It was Omar Vizquel more than anyone. I was always a defense-first guy and dreamed of winning a Gold Glove in the big leagues. That was my goal, and it hasn’t changed. So Omar was my idol, because he was so good defensively. Offensively, it would be Miguel Cabrera. The things that guy can do are amazing. For me, those two guys were really big.

“Another guy that I have to mention is Marco Scutaro — not just because of what he did in his career, but the path that he took. It was the same kind of path as me. He was a defensive guy, at first a backup utility guy, that ended up being a big piece for a championship team. I envision myself doing that: being part of a championship team. That’s what I want in my life, and in my career. I want to win a championship with the Marlins.”





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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EFF51member
1 year ago

Miguel Rojas is a class act!

He is the perfect fit for the Marlins as they move from rebuilding to becoming a competitive team that remains competitive season after season. I would not be surprised is he becomes a MLB manager after every thing is said and done.