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2023 Phillies preview: three outfield prospects to keep an eye on

Could the organization finally hit paydirt on a young outfielder? Please?

Surprise Saguaros v. Scottsdale Scorpions Photo by Jill Weisleder/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The Phillies’ recent track record with homegrown outfielders is pretty bleak. Aside from a two month stretch in 2013 that earned–*shudders*–Domonic Brown a lone All-Star appearance, the organization hasn’t really cultivated a successful outfielder since Pat Burrell (some persnickety critics might argue even he didn’t quite live up to his full potential as a #1 overall draft pick). Apologies to Michael Bourn, who went on to have a decent career elsewhere and without whom the Phillies don’t get Brad Lidge or a parade down Broad Street, but I’m talking about on-field contributions in a Phillies uniform.

All this to say, chase the hype with a shot of salt.

Knocking on the door: Johan Rojas

Signed as an international free agent for only $10K back in 2018, the 22-year-old Rojas is arguably the most talented Phillies outfield prospect since Roman Quinn and with a similar toolkit. The speedy centerfielder looted 62 bases across A+ and AA ball last season to go along with seven triples.

His right-handed bat has a smidge of pop, as evidenced by 20 doubles and seven home runs last year. His .721 OPS and impressively low 16.6 K% after his promotion to Reading inspire confidence that he could be able to keep up with big league pitching.

His best tool aside from, or perhaps in tandem with, his speed is his fielding proficiency. Rojas recorded 10 outfield assists in 2022 and his 2.80 RF/9 from CF would have been good for 6th in the majors. RF/9 stands for range factor (putouts plus assists) per nine innings played, for those who didn’t know (looking at you, self from yesterday).

The most likely and probably preferred scenario from the Phillies’ perspective would be to have Rojas man centerfield in Reading on a daily basis for the majority of the season. But if incumbent starter Brandon Marsh sustains any kind of significant injury, or if his production fails to convince the organization that Marsh is an everyday player and they opt for a right-handed platoon pairing, Rojas should be on the short list of internal candidates to fill the vacancy.

2024 and beyond: Justin Crawford and Gabriel Rincones, Jr.

Similarly outfitted like Rojas, Crawford is another speed-to-burn outfielder who projects as a plus defender and a mischief-maker on the basepaths for opposing infields. His challenge will be getting on base consistently. In the smallest of sample sizes following his selection at #17 overall last summer, Crawford slashed .297/.395/.351 in 11 games of rookie ball and struggled over a week’s worth of action in Clearwater to close out the season, going .143/.217/.143 across 5 games.

While his dad carved out a nice career as a light-hitting scorcher and there’s something to be said for nepo baby advantages bloodlines, he’s going to have to find a way to hit to the gaps, stretch some singles into doubles and get his slugging percentage north of .350 to expect any consideration for a spot on the big club. With only 19 years and 16 professional games under his belt, he’ll have plenty of opportunities to do just that.

MLB Pipeline’s pick as their break-out Phillies prospect this year, Rincones, Jr. is getting his first taste of professional baseball this Spring after some injury concerns kept him from suiting up following the 2022 draft. The 22-year-old Florida Atlantic product projects as a power-hitting corner outfielder three or four years down the road. Given his unique path to organized baseball, that timeline might also coincide with his representing Great Britain at the next rendition of the World Baseball Classic in 2027.