Most dangerous leadoff hitter in KBO says best is yet to come

KT Wiz outfielder Mel Rojas Jr. runs after hitting a two-run home run during a game with Doosan Bears in Jamsil bseball stadium, Seoul, May 28. Yonhap

It all started out as a joke from his coaching staff earlier in the season.

Mel Rojas Jr. of the KT Wiz, one of the premier sluggers in the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO), started the 2024 campaign batting in the No. 3 spot. That is where he had spent most of his MVP-winning 2020 season during his first tour of duty with the Wiz.

And Rojas, back in the KBO this year after a spell in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball, was hitting just fine from where he was, putting himself among the KBO leaders in home runs, RBIs and on-base plus slugging (OPS).

Wiz manager Lee Kang-chul and his staff started joking around with Rojas and asked him if he would bat second.

And they really did put Rojas in that spot in April, and he played five straight games there before returning to the No. 3 hole.

The staff also joked about putting Rojas in the leadoff spot. Even in this day and age of advanced statistics that have altered the way lineups are constructed, putting a home run hitter like Rojas up top is unusual.

But as injuries began piling up, manager Lee put his jokes into action. Rojas hit from the leadoff spot for the first time on May 12. 안전 The Wiz moved him around for the next few days after May 12, but he has been penciled in as the leadoff man every game since May 19.

And the way Rojas has been swinging the bat since then, the Wiz probably should have made the switch earlier.

In 10 games from the leadoff spot, Rojas is batting a robust .390/.468/.659 with two homers and 11 RBIs. He has hit safely in all 10 games, and the Wiz have won seven of them.

“I always told them I didn’t care. I could hit from any spot in the lineup,” Rojas told Yonhap News Agency on Tuesday, before making his seventh straight start in the leadoff spot against the Doosan Bears at Jamsil Baseball Stadium in Seoul. “I would just do my job from wherever they put me in the lineup. I don’t have a problem.”

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