GLENDALE, Ariz. – Miguel Rojas said he cries every night. It has nothing to do with the long odds he faces of making the Dodgers’ Opening Day roster.
The slick-fielding infielder, like Venezuelans at camps all around Florida and Arizona, is worried about his family back home, where protests between protesters and police have turned deadly in recent days. Rojas and fellow non-roster invitee J.C. Boscan, are the only Venezuelans in camp with the Dodgers.
Rojas’ wife lives 35 minutes from Caracas, the nation’s capital and the center of unrest. Rojas said she scarcely leaves the house these days.
“People in Venezuela are doing something special right now. They’re showing the government they’re not happy with what’s happening over there,” Rojas said. “I know that’s not the right way to do it, but they have to do it anyways, because the people are not happy.”
Rojas has a lot on his mind these days. In addition to worrying about his family and country, he is in his first major-league camp, trying to soak it all up while putting himself on the team’s radar. The Dodgers love Rojas’ glove, which could put him in the mix for playing time at second base, but he is a lifetime .234 hitter in the minor leagues.
His defensive wizardry has impressed everyone here. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly compared Rojas to Omar Vizquel, who happens to be one of his hero’s. A few days ago, Rojas entertained the entire camp with his quick hands, taking ground balls from Alex Guerrero and transferring them so quickly from glove to hand, it appeared he was catching them barehanded.
“Manos buenas,” Clayton Kershaw said.
Rojas, who turns 25 in five days, said he began practicing that trick when he was 8 years old, honing on it by throwing a ball against a wall over and over and over again.
Guerrero, Rojas and Dee Gordon are all trying to make the transition from shortstop to second base, but Rojas seems to have a head start. He was signed and spent most of his career in the Cincinnati Reds organization and learned how to play second at a young age.
He said the most awkward part of the transition has been protecting himself from runners. At shortstop, you can see them coming. From second base, they’re often coming from behind you.
Rojas ran into Vizquel while playing Venezuelan winter ball and spent some time chatting with him in the outfield during batting practice. He said the 23-year major-league veteran, now the first-base coach of the Detroit Tigers, advised him on learning to becoming a valuable utility player. Vizquel filled that role late in his career and played until he was 45.
“He said, ‘If you know you’re not playing, you’ve got to work,’ “ Rojas said.