The Phillies made the surprising decision to promote Johan Rojas to the Majors on July 14th following an injury to Cristian Pache. The 22-year-old Rojas had never played above Double-A but was being thrown into the middle of a club contending for a championship. The organization clearly believed in the young center fielder, and he showed why that belief was well-founded.
2023 stats with the Phillies: 59 G, 164 PA, .302/.342/.430, 13 XBH, 2 HR, 23 RBI, 14 SB, 42 K, 5 BB, 2.4 WAR, 15 DRS, 6 OAA, 5 RAA
2023 postseason stats: 13 G, 45 PA, .093/.114/.163, 2 XBH, 15 K, 1 BB
Rojas showed his superstar abilities on defense immediately. On the first ball hit to him in the Major Leagues on July 15th, he made a jumping catch at the wall for one out and unleashed a laser of a throw to first to double off the runner who was already around second.
AS WE SAID... WELCOME JOHAN pic.twitter.com/PSmu96yvuj— Philadelphia Phillies (@Phillies) July 15, 2023
Later that day in the second half of a double header, Rojas picked up his first MLB hit as part of a 3-4 showing with 2 RBIs. Rojas would tally his first home run off of a position player pitching on August 11th in a blowout win against the Twins.
Hats off to Jordan Luplow there. That was an all time favorite position-player-pitching moment for me.— Alex Carr (@AlexCarrMLB) August 12, 2023
Luplow imitated Craig Kimbrel on the mound, and had Johan Rojas cracking up at the plate.
The next pitch: Rojas slugs his first Major League home run.
Baseball is awesome. pic.twitter.com/e9krbm452o
Rojas would continue to hold his own at the plate in the Majors despite real question marks about his bat that have followed him throughout his professional career in the minors. He would also continue to make difficult plays in center field look easy, en route to compiling a stat-breaking 15 defensive runs saved in just 59 games. He caught the final out of Michael Lorenzen’s no-hitter on August 9th, his ninth out recorded of the game.
Johan Rojas is 22 years old and has played a total of 20 games above Double A. But he wanted the ball hit to him during a no hitter pic.twitter.com/yeH43yZisu— Joe Edinger (@Joe_Edinger) August 10, 2023
He would cap off his regular season with a walk-off single in the bottom of the 10th inning that sent the Phillies back to the postseason in consecutive years for the first time since 2010-2011.
WALK IT OFF INTO RED OCTOBER. pic.twitter.com/usqUiUVlNu— Philadelphia Phillies (@Phillies) September 27, 2023
If the regular season showed why belief in Rojas’ potential is warranted, the postseason showed why doubt in him ever reaching it is warranted as well. His bat was totally exposed against tougher pitching with better game plans, as he had just 4 total hits in 45 plate appearances and struck out 15 times.
Opposing pitchers gave him the 2022 Bryson Stott postseason treatment, as they continuously threw him high fastballs as he chased them out of the zone or failed to catch up to the ones in the zone. As the postseason went on, Rojas started swinging at everything, resulting in weak contact and quick at bats to go along with the strikeouts.
Rojas will be a contributor in 2024, but there’s a good chance he starts the season in Triple-A. His ugly postseason at the plate exposed his issues and he could use some time at a lower level to work through adjustments. Also, his .410 BABIP in the regular season looms large over his results after his postseason showing.
The Phillies don’t need Rojas to be a Silver Slugger award winner. He provides elite value with his defense, but they need more than a black hole on offense. He will still be just 23 years old when the season starts and has never played in Triple-A. The Phillies can start the year with Brandon Marsh in CF and Cristian Pache platooning with him if and when they acquire a LF. Rojas can spend time working on his bat until something forces an issue, either an injury or poor performance.
Meanwhile, Rojas should have two major objectives this offseason. The first is to add muscle. Again, he doesn’t need to hit 20+ home runs or slug .450, but many of his hits, especially his XBH, were a product of his speed and/or his high BABIP. That’s not a bad thing, but it's not really sustainable either. Rojas had a fly ball rate of just 16.8%, well below the league average of 25.8%. He should not look to launch the ball, but he needs to be able to hit the ball harder into the air and into the gaps, as he had just one barrel in the regular season on 113 batted balls.
The second objective is to practice bunting. Rojas’ speed is a lethal weapon on the bases, as he can leg out bunt singles and turn them into doubles with a steal of second. He struggled being able to get bunts down on a consistent basis when he attempted to. If Rojas can perfect the art of bunting for a base hit, he can offset come of his general plate discipline and contact issues and set the table for the top of the order out of the nine hole.