Q&A with Irwil Rojas

With Dioner Navarro gone, who now assumes the role of top catching prospect in the system? Some say it could be lefty swinging, contact hitting extraordinaire, Irwil Rojas. We caught up with the Venezuelan native to chat about his future, his past and what type of player he feels he can be.

PinstripesPlus: You recently got an invite to the big league spring training camp. What are your thoughts on that?

Irwil Rojas: I haven't heard a lot about it yet and I am just waiting to hear more from Carlos Rios about it. I think it would be great, yes. I am going to the Yankees camp in the Dominican Republic and Carlos Rios will let me know if I have gotten my ticket to go to Yankees camp in Tampa. Right now I am expecting to go there on February 15th but we'll see.

PP: Your statistics were fantastic in "la liga paralela" (Minor League version of the Venezuelan Winter League) this year. How is the competition in that league?

Rojas: Well, yes I did very well. I felt like I was at 100% strength and I am very happy with my performance. I ended up batting .336 in 125 at bats. The competition is like the Gulf Coast League but better because there are older guys also. But, it is as good or better than the Gulf Coast.

PP: We see in your statistics this winter that you did not strike out once in 125 at bats. That is just about unheard of in any league. You must be a tremendous contact hitter, correct?

Rojas: Yes, it is true, I did not strike out once. I do consider myself to be a great contact hitter. I haven't produced a lot of power yet but I'm working on that.

PP: Many of the pitchers that you caught in the Gulf Coast League in 2004 have said that you were a pleasure to throw to. Do you consider your receiving ability to be your best attribute?

Rojas: Actually, not really. When I was in the Dominican Republic I was much more of an offensive catcher. When I was there I was always working really hard on my defense. I already had my offense but now defense has become a strength for me also. But, I still think my offense is my biggest strength. When I came to the United States last year, my defense was really good but my offense was not as good as it usually is.

PP: So, do you believe you are capable of far greater achievements with the bat than what you accomplished in 2004?

Rojas: Yes, definitely. I am sure of that. Even though I'm a good defensive catcher now, my hitting is what has carried me to where I am today.

PP: Have you been given any indication as to where you will start of the 2005 season?

Rojas: No, not at all. I really have no idea. I heard Charleston is a possibility but I am not too sure.

PP: Switching gears for a moment, what can you tell us about your Dominican Summer League teammate, Johnny Cordoba?

Rojas: Yes, he is a very, very good pitcher but he had a little arm ache a while back. I'm not sure what is going on with him right now since I haven't talked to him in like 8 months. In the Dominican he was the best pitcher in the whole league even though he isn't really a big man on the mound. He throws in the high 80's but he really has great location. He also has a really good curveball and the same goes for his changeup and his sinker too.

PP: You've caught some excellent pitchers in your young career. Who are the best pitchers you have seen so far?

Rojas. Well Johnny Cordoba is definitely a great one. Eric Abreu too. Johnny could be the best because he has such great location. In the Gulf Coast last year there were some really good ones too. Everyone on that team all worked so hard. But, I think the best were Christian Garcia and Maximo Nelson. I would say Phil Hughes because he is very good but he didn't pitch a lot of innings for us. I have caught a lot of good pitchers so it is hard to choose just one.

PP: Back to you now. Just how good is your throwing arm behind the plate?

Rojas: My throwing arm is very strong right now. I think it is ready for the big leagues. I just know that it is very good right now.

PP: Let's talk about your fellow Venezuelan, Marcos Vechionacci. Has Marcos always been as good as he now is today?

Rojas: Yes, Marcos lives down here in Valencia near me. All I know is that he has been really good ever since I first met him. He's a great fielder and a great hitter. I think he's always been a good player.

PP: So when did Yankee scouts first discover you and decide to sign you?

Rojas: They started scouting me in November of 2001 and signed me not too long after. I was playing for the Francave team at the time in the Criollitos de Venezuela League. I was playing very well when they came to sign me to a contract.

PP: Tell us a little about your experience in the Dominican Summer League.

Rojas: I played two years there. And, in 2003, I batted .326. That was very good for that league. I also hit one home run.

PP: You seem to profile more as a contact hitter that hits for average. Were you always able to make contact at such an incredibly high rate?

Rojas: Yes, always. It was something that came naturally to me. I know not having any strikeouts in over 100 at bats like I did this off season is very impressive.

PP: Were there any other teams that had expressed interest in signing you?

Rojas: Yes, there was the Boston Red Sox, the Chicago Cubs and the Texas Rangers besides the New York Yankees.

PP: When did you first become a catcher?

Rojas: It was in 2001. It was in September to be exact.

PP: What positions did you play before you became a catcher?

Rojas: Before I started catching, I played outfield and I pitched a lot too. Actually, when I was 16 years old, my fastball was clocked at 84 MPH. But, they decided I should go behind the plate because I had a very strong bat.

PinstripesPlus.com would like to thank Irwil Rojas for his time and efforts in answering these questions. We will stay updated will Irwil throughout the 2005 season as well.

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