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Phillies Nuggets: Could Johan Rojas open 2024 in Triple-A?

What will Johan Rojas’ role with the 2024 Phillies be? (Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)

The Philadelphia Phillies might have the best defensive player in Major League Baseball in the form of Johan Rojas. It also became apparent during the postseason that Rojas isn’t yet an MLB-caliber hitter, which makes how the Phillies proceed with him of interest.

Rojas was promoted from Double-A Reading in mid-July, and posted a staggering 15 defensive runs saved and six outs above average in just 392 regular season innings in center field for the Phillies. In his first inning in the majors, Rojas made a game-changing catch in center field (watch above), taking a hit away from Fernando Tatis Jr. and doubling up Ha-Seong Kim at first base.

Phillies Spanish broadcaster Oscar Budejen nicknamed Rojas “The General,” and never was his command of the outfield more on display then when he robbed likely NL MVP Ronald Acuña Jr. of a bases-clearing extra-base hit late in Game 4 of the NLDS. Rojas’ catch was the final nail in the coffin of the Braves, helping the Phillies to upset Atlanta in the NLDS for the second year in a row.

Unfortunately for the Phillies, Rojas was essentially like having a pitcher bat ninth in the lineup during the postseason, hitting .093 with 15 strikeouts in 43 postseason at-bats.

So what will happen with Rojas — who has never played at the Triple-A level — in 2024? President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski was candid in his evaluation of Rojas during his year-end press conference last week.

“Rojas’ defense far exceeded his offense during the regular season,” Dombrowski said. “My question when we made the move with him to put him at the big league level was ‘Can he keep his head above water [offensively] to keep him in the lineup with his defense because of the other offense we have?’ And the answer was, ‘I think we can do that.’

“And we really did that until we got to the postseason. And they really went after him and he scuffled at that point.”

For as much as Rojas struggled offensively against the Miami Marlins and Braves in the NLWCS and NLDS, the rest of the Phillies lineup was so hot that it really didn’t matter if they got anything out of the No. 9 spot in the lineup.

But having a position player hit under .100 in the postseason isn’t sustainable. And given that he’s only 23, the Phillies aren’t resigned to the toolsy outfielder being a below-average hitter. That could, however, mean that despite being by far the best defensive player on the Phillies, Rojas opens 2024 at Triple-A to continue to improve offensively.

“So I’m not going to anoint him a position with our big league club next year,” Dombrowski admitted. “He has to be able to contribute some offensively or else then he has to go down and continue to develop. [That] doesn’t mean we don’t love him, we think he’s a really good player. But we do need more offense than that out of a position.”

To his credit, Rojas did hit .302 with a .771 OPS in 149 at-bats during the regular season. That’s a relatively small sample size, though, and his playoff performance likely is an indicator that his regular season production at the plate wasn’t sustainable. His .410 batting average on balls in play during the regular season — .300 is considered average — clearly was unsustainable.

Rojas also walked just five times in 164 plate appearances, so it wasn’t as though he was providing additional value by getting on base outside of the times when he reached via hit. And that carried over to the postseason, where he walked just once. Being able to see more pitches needs to be part of Rojas’ development offensively.

It’s not as though there isn’t anything to work with, though. Rojas can make a great career for himself as a singles hitter, because he’s an immediate basestealing threat when he does get on. He stole 14 bases during the regular season, but zero during the playoffs, because he wasn’t really on base. He also doubled nine times and posted two triples in a relatively small sample size during the regular season, another reminder of how valuable he could be at the plate if he puts the ball in play more frequently. Far too often, though, he just looked overmatched in the playoffs, with no real opportunity to make contact.

If the Phillies thought that this was just who Rojas was as a hitter, they would likely proceed with him in center field in 2024. That they could send him to Triple-A Lehigh Valley to open the season is a sign that they still believe there’s more meat on the bone in terms of his offensive talent.

The Nuggets

  • If Harper plays primarily at first base in 2024 — and Kyle Schwarber still takes down the bulk of the at-bats at DH — the Phillies will likely need to add another right-handed hitting outfielder. Pache is a great defender with a questionable offensive track record in his own right. Marsh showed improvement against left-handed pitching, but still is a much better option when facing righties. Someone like Mark Canha would be a good option, because he has experience playing first base and both corner outfield spots, but he may have better opportunities in free agency than being a swing guy for the Phillies.


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  7. Scenes From A Depressing Phillies Clubhouse Following Game 7 Heartbreaker: ‘It’s A Terrible Feeling’
  8. Craig Kimbrel: ‘I Booed Myself After Those Two Games As Well’
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  10. After Uneven Contract Year, Aaron Nola Hopes To Remain With Phillies

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