NEW YORK -- As Luis Rojas enters his 14th season with the Mets organization, his greatest asset as the club’s newest manager will be the relationships he has built with players while working his way up the ladder. That has been the message since the day he was officially hired
NEW YORK -- As Luis Rojas enters his 14th season with the Mets organization, his greatest asset as the club’s newest manager will be the relationships he has built with players while working his way up the ladder. That has been the message since the day he was officially hired to fill in the hole left by Carlos Beltrán’s departure.
At the Mets’ inaugural FanFest on Saturday at Citi Field, what became explicitly clear was just how many players have ties to the 38-year-old first-time Major League manager. Out of the seven players who spoke to the media -- Jacob deGrom, Pete Alonso, Amed Rosario, Steven Matz, Robinson Canó, Edwin Díaz and Jeff McNeil -- all but one (Díaz) had previous connections to Rojas, and each one spoke in glowing terms about the type of person and manager they know and expect him to be.
deGrom, Matz and McNeil had Rojas as a manager at Class A Savannah (now Class A Columbia) in 2012, ‘13 and ‘14, respectively; Rosario at Class A Advanced St. Lucie in ‘15; and Alonso at Double-A Binghamton in ’17 and ‘18. Canó, though he never played for Rojas, did play for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic in 2013, when they went unbeaten and won the title under general manager Moises Alou, Rojas’ half-brother.
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Perhaps none was more effusive in his praise for Rojas than reigning National League Rookie of the Year Alonso.
“Seeing him manage a game, I mean, the dude never loses cool, he never hits the panic button, he’s always so prepared, and he doesn’t just use his knowledge of the game, he uses his instincts very, very well,” Alonso said. “He’s paid his dues managing in the Minor Leagues, he’s paid his dues managing in the Dominican [Winter League], he’s been in the playoffs in the Minor Leagues a ton, and he’s won championships in the Dominican. I think people don’t really understand how difficult that is. Because in the Minors, you have a shuffling of players going up, down, guys signing, guys getting released -- it’s a revolving door. Same thing in the Dominican Winter League.
“But now, up here, we’re going to have a solid core of guys. We know where people are going to be, we know our identity, and I just think that’s going to translate extremely well. Because if he can win with a big shuffle going on, he can for sure win with guys that are going to be staying in their spots. He’s a great guy, a great manager, and I’m so pumped, so pumped for him.”
Matz has firsthand experience with that winning culture, as Rojas guided his Savannah Sand Gnats to the South Atlantic League championship in 2013. During the long Minor League season, Matz said, the team became a family, living in close quarters and riding the bus together. The fond memories he has from that time stick with him, and he credits Rojas for fostering that type of environment.
“He’s very approachable. He’ll give you his honest opinion, which is what we need,” Matz said. “He was really even-keeled -- didn’t get too high, didn’t get too low, just stayed the course and pulled for us. I really enjoyed playing for him, and now I’m looking forward to him leading the way.”
Reigning National League Cy Young Award winner deGrom, one of the longest-tenured Mets, has been around to see Rojas’ rise over the course of the past decade, and said the manager’s success comes as no surprise.
“He just knows the game of baseball really well, [and he] communicates really well with everybody,” deGrom said. “He’s definitely looking out for your best interests. In the Minor Leagues, his goal was player development. … You can tell that’s still his mindset. He wants you to be your best. And any time somebody can get that out of players, it will definitely help the team.”
Rosario and McNeil echoed similar sentiments, calling Rojas a supportive presence and citing his open style of communication as a boon to the Mets’ clubhouse. Canó added that his upbringing in a baseball family, with his brother, Moises, as well as his father, Felipe Alou, has helped him develop an impressive baseball IQ.
• Rojas' 'old-school story' perfect fit for Mets
Ultimately, though, what is most important to the Mets players is how Rojas’ hire will allow them to maintain continuity as they hope to build upon a promising second half of the 2019 season, in which they went 46-26 and at times looked on the cusp of securing an National League Wild Card spot. That’s why they vouched for Rojas when the opening came up.
“I talked to [general manager Brodie Van Wagenen] and asked him, ‘Well, if we get someone externally, are there going to be any changes?’ And he was like, ‘What do you mean?’ Alonso said. “I said, ‘Well, we’ve got such a great staff -- at this point all the positions were taken up other than the manager spot. And I love working with [all of the coaches], all the pitching staff. It’s just a great dynamic of people, and I didn’t want that to change.
“Luis would really help get the most not only out of our players, but Luis works great with everybody, and it would make sense to have someone who works well with other people. Because at the end of the day, if someone is butting heads or clashing in the workplace, it doesn’t translate to good results. But Luis is going to be awesome. Not just me, but so many guys who came up through the system played for him. And the guys coming from other teams, I think they’re really going to take a big liking to him.”
Betelhem Ashame is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in New York. Follow her on Twitter @betelhem_ashame.