TigsTown: Can you explain what it is you do as Minor League Field Coordinator for the Detroit Tigers?
Mike Rojas: This is going on my third year as the Minor League Field Coordinator, and actually being the right-hand man to the Director of Player Development, Glenn Ezell. I'm in charge of all on-field activities, scheduling, and making sure that our fundamentals and stuff on the field gets done right.
TT: Are you spending most of your time in Lakeland, or do spend plenty of time on the road to the minor league towns?
MR: No, I travel all over. I go to all the minor league towns, and I also go to Venezuela and the Dominican.
TT: A lot of our readers may not be familiar with the details of your career, so we will start towards the beginning. You finished your playing career and went back down to start working at St. Thomas University in Miami, Florida; how did that help you once you got back into professional ball?
MR: It's a funny situation. I worked a little bit at St. Thomas with Al Avila. My brother Robert was playing there at the time, and I went in periodically just to help out. Then I heard that the Winter Meetings were being held in Miami, and my father got a hold of me, and I had the itch of trying to get in the game somehow; in scouting, coaching, or managing, so I was a lobby gladiator at Fountain Blue in Miami Beach. I talked to several people, and someone with the White Sox came to me, and I had an interview with Buddy Bell and the White Sox organization, and the gave me an opportunity to manage right off the bat.
TT: When you got back in the game with the White Sox, were there some big adjustments you had to make, or did everything come back pretty quickly for you?
MR: It came back pretty quick. Having Buddy Bell as our field coordinator for the minor leagues, he just made the transition so much easier. With his experience as a player, and Tito Francona was a manager there, and me asking questions left and right that made it a lot easier.
TT: You've had the opportunity to manage all over the country, including stints with the White Sox, Astros, Reds, and now the Tigers. What are some of the best experiences of your managerial career?
MR: I can start with the most recent one managing in Toledo. I was the interim manager and then put in as manager, and making it to the playoffs for the third consecutive year; that was one of the highlights of my career. Getting to manage at Triple-A, that topped out getting to manage from rookie ball all the way up. That was an outstanding experience! The group that I had in Quad Cities with the Astros, that was an outstanding job by the coaching staff and the players there. Also in Rockford with the Cincinnati Reds, with Adam Dunn, Brandon Larson [Austin] Kearns, Gookie Dawkins at short, Corky Miller behind the plate; that was a great group of kids too! I've got a lot of things to be thankful for throughout my managerial career.
TT: I remember seeing that group with Quad Cities in 1998, having just moved there with my family. It was a good squad.
MR: It's interesting, I had that same group in Auburn the year before, and we really didn't have that successful of a year there. These kids came back to spring training the next year, and they had a fire in their eye, and they had a tremendous year for us.
TT: There's something to be said for gaining experience playing with each other, knowing where or what each other is going to do, isn't there?
MR: There's no question. Players used to play together for a number of years in the minor leagues, and if they eventually make it to the big leagues together, they were usually successful in the big leagues together. There is a lot to be said for that.
TT: You mentioned the opportunity to manage at Toledo in 2007, and that was a bit of a last minute thing with LP needing surgery; how did that change your preparation for the season? Did it take a while for you to get your feet under you, or did you just walk in there with a roster of experienced guys, and just let them go at it?
MR: They came to me with probably a week left in spring training, and this was going to be my first year as the roving catching instructor. In all reality, it didn't change any of my plans. I had just finished managing the year before in Lakeland, and it was just like riding a bike. With the veteran players we had like Kevin Hooper, Jack Hannahan, Mike Hessman, [Ramon] Santiago, Timo Perez, we just had a great club there with a lot of experience.
TT: Be honest here Mike, do you ever get the itch to get back on the bench and manage again?
MR: My goal is to one day manage in the big leagues. That's always been my goal. I can't wait for that day to come, and I'm sure it will.
TT: You've been a successful manager all along, winning in Lakeland and Toledo, being dubbed one of the top managerial prospects, what do you think are some of the keys to your success on the bench?
MR: Just trusting my staff and trusting my players on a daily basis. As we just discussed a bit about Tito Francona, having relationships with the players and staff, being able to communicate with each other in English and in Spanish. That's a key and a plus for me in that I'm bi-lingual. With the experience that I've had, and the knowledge thrown to me by my father, and asking questions of all these great managers like Whitey Herzog, my father, it all helps. Any time I'm alone with my Dad, I'm always asking questions. My communications with the players and knowing when to be strong with them is one of the things that helps me.
TT: Moving a little bit away from the bulk of your career, let's talk about what it is you get to see everyday on the field. Can you identify a couple of players that you saw make big strides forward in 2009?
MR: Ryan Strieby and Brennan Boesch both had tremendous years. Scott Sizemore had a great year for us. He was our player of the year. [Casey] Crosby coming off of surgery and getting back on the hill and having a successful year in West Michigan was big. Of course to me the top one is Alex Avila making it to the big leagues from Double-A. That to me is the highlight of the year.
TT: Fourteen months or so after being drafted, and he's already catching games in the big leagues; that's a pretty meteoric rise.
MR: That's right, and he's going to be a very good catcher in the big leagues for a very long time.
TT: How about some guys you think might be in line for a big step forward in 2010?
MR: I think it depends what happens with Sizemore. He's going to be one of the keys for us if he makes the big league club. That's of course a decision of Dave Dombrowski and Jim Leyland. Hopefully Wilkin Ramirez can step it up. He's having a solid year in winter ball down there in the Dominican. He's a very exciting ball player. Brent Dlugach had a pretty decent year at Triple-A, and he's a very soft-handed, smooth fielding shortstop, and you hope that he can get a shot to do something. Gustavo Nunez is opening eyes all over the place as a shortstop! He's a tremendous ball player as well. Cale Iorg, I still think he can be a Major League shortstop in the future. He just needs to make some adjustments at the plate and quit being so long with the bat.
TT: You mentioned Wilkin Ramirez and his success down in winter ball. He's played a lot of center field down there, and when I talked with Dan Lunetta, he mentioned that that was something the organization wanted him to get exposed to. I know he's been a little rough instinctually in left field, but when you've seen him in center field, how has he looked out there?
MR: In center field he's actually looking good. He gets to see a different angle of the bat and the ball in the hitting zone. For me, it's a better position for him in center and right field where he can see the ball a little bit better off the bat, than he can in left field. He needs to learn all three really, and I think he can play all three. I think playing center like this expands his future and helps his progression as a minor league player, and hopefully a big league player.
TT: Who are a couple of guys you that you see everyday, that you think might be a bit of a sleeper in the organization? They may not be anything new to you, but they might not be on the radar of most casual fans out there.
MR: Everybody that's not on the Major League roster is still a sleeper! Audy Ciriaco. That to me is a sleeper. In talking with Andy Barkett during the year last year, he's finally getting a level of comfort at the plate. With that raw power that he has, and if he makes the right adjustments on the off-speed stuff, to me, he's going to be a big league ball player.
TT: When fans read national pieces about the Tigers minor league system and how it ranks among the other organizations, there hasn't been a lot of positive talk in recent years. How would you respond to those somewhat negative reviews, and how do you view the overall talent in the organization?
MR: I'd say I don't really think they know what they're looking at, because I think David Chadd and the scouting department has done a tremendous job of giving us quality ball players, with a tremendous upgrade over past years. The amount of talent we have, this is the reason we've gotten better, because we've got a better quality of talent for us to work with.
TT: Throughout the game of baseball, different organizations seem to be known for different developmental philosophies with their players. In general terms, how would you describe the Tigers over-riding philosophy for developing position players and pitchers alike?
MR: It's my job to make sure our philosophy of playing the game right, is executed. You be aggressive on the bases. You play the game fundamentally sound. There's going to be mistakes at the lower levels, but you learn from those mistakes. It just boils down to playing the game right.
TT: Having spent time in other organizations, how do you feel about the Tigers philosophies compared to those other organizations?
MR: To me, the Tigers are the best! The philosophy here in this organization and the history here with the Old English D; I can't knock any of the other organizations, but from what I've seen in the last six or seven years, this organization is phenomenal.
TT: I always give the person I'm interviewing the last word, Mike, so the floor is yours!
MR: The only thing I want to say to the readers is that up and down from Toledo the Gulf Coast League, we need to get the fans from each town of all of our affiliates, to go out and watch these kids, and see them progress. To me this is the best organization in baseball, and the way things have been going in the past few years, it's fun to watch.
TigsTown would like to thank Mike for taking time away from his off-season schedule to speak with us about the organization and his career in baseball. We look forward to seeing him back out there in spring training helping to develop the future of Tiger baseball, and we wish him the best of luck in his quest to become a big league manager!