The New York Yankees added big-time international free agent Ronny Rojas but add even more talent to their crowded middle infield.
The New York Yankees are largely considered one of the top organizations that utilize the international free agent market.
That trend has continued this summer. After making a number of transactions throughout July, the Yankees inked who many believe is the best hitter in the class: middle infielder Ronny Rojas.
The Dominican native — who MLB Pipeline considers the 11th-best international prospect — turned just 16 on August 23. But the Yankees have a ton of faith in Rojas, as they awarded him with a $1 million signing bonus. In comparison, the front office signed current ace Luis Severino to a $225,000 contract back in 2011 while handing slugging backstop $3 million in 2009.
Despite being ranked outside of the top-10, many believe Rojas is the best hitter in his class — even at such a young age. Here’s what MLB.com had to say about his skill set.
“Arguably one of the best hitters on the market, Rojas, who won’t turn 16 until August, is definitely one of the youngest. Rojas succeeds in large part because of his quick hands and a good hitting approach from both sides of the plate. Scouts think he has a chance to hit for average and they love that he makes hard contact from both sides. In games, Rojas has displayed gap-to-gap power and there’s a chance he could hit home runs in the future. Rojas is known for his bat, but he’s also a decent defender. He makes all of the routine plays and has enough arm strength to keep him at the position now and in the future. He also has a projectable athletic frame. Rojas is trained by Quico Pena in the Dominican Republic. The Yankees are considered the favorite to sign the teenager.”
The interest in a player of Rojas’ caliber is obvious. The Yankees have an impressive track record of molding young talent into big league ball players. Because he’s the perfect combination of youth and skill, the franchise would love to further that narrative with someone like Rojas.
But the biggest question isn’t about the player himself. It’s about the gluttonous amount of middle infield prospects the Yankees already have throughout their system.
Start at the top. The double play duo of Starlin Castro and Didi Gregorius was the first in Yankees history to hit 20 home runs in the same season (2016). Fast forward one year later and Castro has battled through a hamstring injury to hit .298 with an OPS of .793 while Gregorius continues to develop into one of the best two-way shortstops in the game. Most importantly, they’re still young. (they’re both 27.)
The depth isn’t there at Triple-A but the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders was home to one of baseball’s brightest young stars for a portion of this season: Gleyber Torres.
Torres — who was ranked the Yankees’ top prospect and MLB’s third-best youngster by Baseball America — was rising through the system quickly with the hopes he could take over third base by midseason. But the 20-year-old, whose season ended due to Tommy John surgery, is projected to be a second baseman at the Major League level. He was hitting .309 with an on-base percentage of .406 before the injury and is expected to be in pinstripes at some point in 2018.
Like in the Bronx, the Trenton Thunder also have an impressive middle infield combination — although this pair just recently came together.
Thairo Estrada is one of the most underrated prospects in the entire system. He’s torn up Double-A pitching this season, as he’s sported a triple slash of 301./.353/.392 in 122 games. He may not provide much power but Estrada is a speed demon that is a slick fielder at both shortstop and second base.
Nick Solak was promoted to the Thunder during their playoff run but his impressive hitting ability will make him a fixture in Trenton come 2018. After sporting an .856 OPS in High-A Tampa this season, he’s hitting .286 since his promotion.
And it doesn’t stop there.
Kyle Holder and Hoy Jun Park — both of the Tampa Yankees — have slowly matured in the lower levels of the minors. As Holder continues to see his bat catch up to his glove, Park can have a unique mix of speed and power when he grows into his frame.
The Yankees have a good problem on their hands. Bringing in another high-quality talent in Rojas will — eventually, given his age — push other players up and down the depth chart while simultaneously giving the organization trade options.
Rojas will be given all the time in the world to excel in the United States. If he does just that, the Yankees will have yet another Baby Bomber who has the chance to take their talents to Yankee Stadium.
If not, there will be plenty of other options to take his place.