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Rob Thomson Optimistic About Johan Rojas Winning Center Field Job – Phillies Nation

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Will Johan Rojas open the 2024 season with the Phillies? (Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire)

Philadelphia Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski was blunt in his year-end press conference when discussing center fielder Johan Rojas, pointing out that the Phillies needed more offensively from the defensive wizard if he was going to open 2024 at the Major League level.

Manager Rob Thomson echoed those sentiments in a recent interview, but appears cautiously optimistic that Rojas will indeed make enough adjustments between the winter and Spring Training to earn the Opening Day center fielder’s job, allowing Brandon Marsh to play in left field.

“Well, it will all depend on Rojas,” Thomson said of the outfield alignment on The Mike Missanelli Podcast. “I’m hoping that Rojas has a good spring with the bat and he wins that job, because he changes the game defensively for sure. But we haven’t given him that spot, he’s gotta earn it. And if it looks like he’s struggling, then he needs more at-bats [in the minors]. And then Marsh would move over into center field and we still have [Jake] Cave and [Cristian] Pache for left.”

Rojas is such an elite defender that competing for a Gold Glove Award might be too low of a goal for him if he spends an entire season in the majors. Across just 392 innings for the Phillies in 2023, Rojas posted 15 defensive runs saved and six outs above average. This isn’t said lightly, but Rojas is a Garry Maddox-esque defender capable of winning the Platinum Glove Award as the best defender in the National League.

That was on full display in Game 4 of the NLDS when he robbed eventual NL MVP Ronald Acuña Jr. of a bases-clearing hit, and essentially stuck a fork in the Atlanta Braves:

However, as noted above, Dombrowski admitted after the Phillies were eliminated by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NLCS that they needed more offensively from Rojas, who hit .093 with 15 strikeouts in 43 postseason at-bats.

“So I’m not going to anoint him a position with our big league club next year,” Dombrowski said at his year-end press conference. “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.”

“So I’m not going to anoint him a position with our big league club next year,” Dombrowski said

For what it’s worth, Rojas did hit .302 across 149 at-bats during the regular season. However, during that brief period he had a .410 batting average on balls in play. That was an unsustainable clip when you consider that the league average for batting average on balls in play is around .300.

There were other concerning trends for Rojas at the plate during his 59 regular season games. He walked only five times. He struggled to get bunts down, which will seemingly have to be a big part of his game as he develops offensively given how quick he is.

We’ll see how Rojas looks during Spring Training. Alex Coffey of The Philadelphia Inquirer recently wrote an excellent piece detailing how Rojas is preparing to compete to be on the Major League roster on Opening Day. Rojas fits the description of toolsy, so you feel like there is more to tap into offensively.

It will be interesting to see if the Phillies make any other additions to the outfield mix before Spring Training, particularly if it’s someone given a guaranteed Major League contract. Both Cave and Pache are out of minor league options, meaning they can’t be sent back to Triple-A without first clearing waivers. And neither seems likely to clear waivers.

So adding a player on a minor-league deal with an invite to Spring Training that could serve as Rojas insurance might be the best path for Dombrowski. Former super-utility star Kiké Hernández feels like a possible fit, but even after a pair of down years for the Boston Red Sox, he still may get a guaranteed big league deal.

It’s also possible the Phillies could sign a player like Hernández and then trade either Pache or Cave, but it does feel like both of those bench pieces are more valuable to the organization than whatever minimal return they would bring back in a trade.

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