Could Phillies turn to the KBO to find a low-risk replacement for Jay Bruce?

MLB: FEB 21 Pirates Spring Training Work Out
21 Feb 2015: Mel Rojas Jr. during the Pirates spring training workout at Pirate City in Bradenton, Florida.

Jay Bruce came to the Phillies in a small-time trade and did his best Matt Stairs impression. A low batting average slugger with along career coming to Philly, both Bruce and Stairs adding a strong pinch hitter to the Phillies’ bench.

Bruce and Stairs had their moments in Philadelphia. Stairs had this iconic moment.

Bruce came to the Phillies and lit the world on fire. In his first 28 games, Bruce slashed .291/.308/.641 with 10 homers. He earned NL Player of the Week honors for his torrid start.

The Phillies do not know if there will be a Designated Hitter in the NL for the 2021 season. That being said, they have more pressing issues than a DH or pinch hitter. Don’t look for them to sign Kyle Schwarber or Eddie Rosario.

The DH is looking even more in doubt after this report from Major League Baseball.

There is a possible bat that could be shipped from overseas for a relative bargain. He could be the steal of the offseason as the reigning MVP of the Korean Baseball Organization.

Mel Rojas Jr.

The son of former Montreal Expos closer Mel Rojas Sr., Mel Rojas Jr. was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2010 MLB draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Rojas never found his footing in the minor leagues. In 8 seasons between the Pirates and Braves, Rojas posted a .701 OPS with just 46 home runs.

That changed with a move to Korea. Just last season, Rojas hit more home runs than in his 8 minor league seasons combined: 47. That’s just one of his impressive stats from his KBO MVP season.

He led the entire KBO in slugging percentage (.680), OPS (1.097), home runs (47), and RBI (135). He was also 3rd in batting average (.349) and OBP (.417).

To put that into a perspective that Phillies fans could handle, Aaron Altherr played with the KBO Champion NC Dinos in his first season overseas. He was a big part of their offense, slashing .278/.352/.541 with 31 homers. That can’t even touch what Rojas did.

For a comparison that has succeeded since coming from the KBO, we’ll look at Eric Thames. In 3 KBO seasons, Thames essentially averaged what Rojas did in his MVP season. He slashed .349/.451/.721 with 124 homers. In his first 3 seasons back in the MLB, Thames had an OPS+ of 118.

Former Phillies Darin Ruf also went to the KBO and came back to find success in the MLB. In his 3 KBO seasons, he posted a .968 OPS with 86 homers. Last season for the Giants, he posted a 143 OPS+.

From these examples, Mel Rojas could truly help the Phillies at the major league level. He also played center field as recently as 2019, so he could contribute at that beleaguered position.

Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire

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