Melquiades Rojas Medrano
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 5' 11", Weight 185 lb.
- High School Liceo Manresa
- Debut August 1, 1990
- Final Game July 1, 1999
- Born December 10, 1966 in Bajos de Haina, San Cristobal, D.R.
Mel Rojas was a right-handed reliever for the Montreal Expos, Chicago Cubs, New York Mets, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Detroit Tigers. He was signed by the Expos as an undrafted free agent in 1985, and he went on to record 126 major league saves. Mel is the brother of minor league outfielder Francisco Rojas, father of Mel Rojas Jr., cousin of Moises Alou, Jose Alou and Felipe Alou Jr., and nephew of Matty, Jesus, and Felipe Alou. Rojas last played in the Atlantic League.
Rojas was signed for the Expos by his uncle, scout Jesus Alou, on November 7, 1985. The Expos advanced Rojas steadily through their minor league system, mostly as a starter. Rojas pitched 55 1/3 innings for the GCL Expos in 1986. The young Dominican native walked 37 hitters and surrendered 63 hits. His ERA for the year was 4.88. Rojas won 8 games for the Burlington Expos in 1987, including a shutout. Behind a dazzling forkball, the young prospect went 6-4 with a 2.45 ERA for the Rockford Expos in 1988. Rojas and Howard Farmer combined to win 21 games for Rockford, and the pair totaled 217 strikeouts. Rojas also made two starts with the West Palm Beach Expos, winning one of them.
In 1989, Rojas split time as a starter and reliever for the Jacksonville Expos. He once again teamed with Farmer to form a strong tandem. The two pitchers won a total of 22 games and combined to fan 255 opponents. Rojas yielded only one home run in 112.0 innings. Baseball America named him the 35th best prospect in all of baseball following the season.
Major League Success: 1990-1996
The Expos promoted their young righty to the Indianapolis Indians in 1990. He made 17 starts for the club, and his ERA was 3.13. He is mentioned in Steve Fireovid's diary about that year in Indianapolis, The 26th Man, where he, along with Farmer, is one of the talented young pitchers standing between the veteran Fireovid and a return to the major leagues. Rojas appeared in 23 games for the Expos after being called up at the end of July. All were relief appearances, and his record was 3-1. He picked up his first major league save on August 25th, closing out the final two innings of a 2-1 victory over the San Diego Padres. Rojas added 6 saves and 3 more wins out of the bullpen in 1991.
The Expos used Rojas as a horse out of the bullpen in 1992. The 25-year-old tossed 100 2/3 innings, all in relief. His record was 7-1, and his ERA was a shining 1.43. He saved 10 games on the season. The Expos posted their highest win total since 1979 in 1993, finishing with a 94-68 record. Rojas saved 10 more games as the primary set-up man for John Wetteland. Acting briefly as the closer while Wetteland was injured in the early going, he had 16 saves in 1994 when the 1994 strike brought the baseball season to a sudden end. The Expos had baseball's best record when the season ended in August.
Baseball resumed in 1995 and Rojas took over as the Expos' closer since Wetteland had been traded to the New York Yankees as part of the Expos' pre-season fire sale. He saved 30 games, but his ERA was 4.12. He rebounded in 1996 and saved 36 games for the Expos. He struck out 92 batters in 81 innings. During his last years with the Expos, he had the rare distinction of being a reliever with a personal catcher: third-string catcher Tim Spehr had become expert at handling Rojas's devastating forkball, and manager Alou would bring him in the game to catch the late innings whenever Rojas was likely to be used. Spehr had no qualms about calling for the pitch in any situation, including with runners on base, and that made Rojas a supremely effective pitcher.
Career as a Journeyman
Rojas signed a large contract with the Chicago Cubs in 1997. His numbers seriously declined: in 54 games with the Cubs, Rojas recorded just 13 saves, and his ERA was 4.42. Part of the problem may have been that the Cubs had no one to play Spehr's role as a designated catcher for the reliever, and Rojas soon lost confidence in his out pitch. Chicago traded Rojas to the New York Mets in August with Brian McRae, and Turk Wendell in exchange for Lance Johnson, Mark Clark, and Manny Alexander. Rojas was 0-2 with a 5.13 ERA with New York. In total, he finished the 1997 campaign with an 0-6 record and a 4.64. The only bright spot was a new career high for strikeouts: 93.
The 31-year-old remained with the Mets in 1998. They did try to bring in Spehr to catch him, but the specialist hit just .137 in 21 games and was gone before the end of the season. In any case, the move did not work as Rojas posted a 6.05 ERA in 58 innings, and recorded just 2 saves. New York traded Rojas to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Bobby Bonilla after the 1998 season ended. After appearing in just 5 games with Los Angeles, Rojas was traded to the Detroit Tigers. He surrendered 16 runs in 6 1/3 innings with Detroit before he was released. The Expos signed Rojas, sent him to the AAA Ottawa Lynx to get his rhythm back, then used him for 3 appearances at the major league level before releasing him on July 3rd. In the first three months of the 1999 season, Rojas had pitched in 13 games for three teams, and assembled an 18.00 ERA in the majors. For the first time in his career, Rojas failed to record a save.
The former closer bounced around between minor league organizations before settling in with the Atlantic League. In 2002, Rojas represented the Nashua Pride in the circuit's All-Star Game. He was with the Dominican national team in the 2003 Pan American Games. He earned 9 saves with the Bridgeport Bluefish in 2004. He also played in Taiwan, in the CPBL for a time.
Post Baseball Career
In 2010, Mel's son Mel Rojas Jr., an outfielder, was a top pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2010 amateur draft. In 2011, Rojas was appointed by Major League Baseball as one of two pitching instructors in El Torneo Supremo, under the direction of his former teammate and first cousin Moises Alou. Rojas was a pitching coach for the DSL Padres in 2012-2015.