Luis Rojas saw something in Jacob deGrom before he rose through Major League Baseball as arguably the game's best pitcher.
While deGrom was still in the minors, his earlier days with the Mets' lower-level affiliates included two stints under Rojas, who served as the manager of the Single-A Savannah Sand Gnats from 2012-14.
With deGrom coming off Tommy John surgery in 2012, he started his climb up the Mets' farm system with Rojas in Savannah, and the season there soon put him on the path to the big leagues.
"Even before that, I saw him a little bit in extended spring training, when I was the manager on the Gulf Coast, the year before that, but I never saw him pitch," Rojas said Saturday during the SNY Mets Town Hall portion of the Mets Fan Fest at Citi Field. "That next season in Savannah, when he got to the team later in the season … he was impressive.
"And immediately, he was probably the best pitcher in that league. It was something that caught everybody's eye in that league, and everything's been history -- Rookie of the Year, I think, a couple years after that and Jake has never stopped."
DeGrom went 6-3 with a 2.51 ERA and 78 strikeouts to 14 walks in 89.2 innings over 15 starts.
He gradually worked his way up through the subsequent levels and started with the Mets in 2014, going 9-6 with a 2.69 ERA and 144 strikeouts to 43 walks in 140.1 innings over 22 starts.
DeGrom, whose development skyrocketed with consecutive NL Cy Young Awards from 2018-19, reflected on his development and how Rojas' guidance impacted him along the way.
"In 2012, that was my first team after Tommy John," deGrom said. "I went to Kingsport for, maybe, about a month and then had Tommy John and then was in extended, went to Savannah and that's where he was at. And what I remember is how much he really cared about the player and their well-being, and that's however many years (ago) and we're fortunate to have him up here this past season and felt the same way about him. He's rooting for each and every guy, wants the best and wants to help you in any way he can.
"And for me, I've been fortunate to be around a bunch of different coaches and I try to take everything I can take from whoever. You're never going to know all there is to know about this game and any time you can take bits and pieces from people and apply it to your game is a big help, and he was that way. You could approach him at any time and ask him any question, and he would answer you honestly. And you really felt like he wants the best for you, and I think that's great to have in, now, a manager."