Johan Rojas' spring struggles causing chaos in the battle for the Phillies' outfield

The regular season is less than two weeks away, and we still don't know who the Opening Day center fielder will be.

Philadelphia Phillies center fielder Johan Rojas continues to struggle at the plate in spring training
Philadelphia Phillies center fielder Johan Rojas continues to struggle at the plate in spring training / Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
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With a week left until the Philadelphia Phillies break camp and head north for real baseball, none of the vacant Opening Day roster spots have been decided yet, but there have been some impressive performances so far.

The outfield battle, which coincidentally is also the battle for the final bench spot, is far from decided. With Johan Rojas struggling at the plate, the Phillies' Opening Day outfield is about as clear as mud. We know Nick Castellanos will patrol right field — that's a given. We assume Brandon Marsh will be ready for the season, but where he'll be playing is anyone's guess. He could be in center if Rojas isn't. Otherwise, he'll be in left.

Rojas' struggles keep Phillies' Opening Day outfield a mystery

While Johan Rojas is the player the team wants to put out in center field on Opening Day, things aren't looking good for the 23-year-old. Despite the offseason work on his swing, the results haven't been there quite yet.

Despite putting together one of his best games on Saturday, going 2-for-3 with a triple, Rojas is still hitting .184 with a .521 OPS and seven strikeouts to one walk in 38 at-bats. While results are not all that manager Rob Thomson and the front office are looking at, according to MLB.com's Todd Zolecki, there must be some head-scratching going on behind the scenes.

“I think it’s going to come,” Thomson told Zolecki. “He’s had a bit of an overhaul [with his swing]. His lower half isn’t synching up. He’ll get it.”

That sounds encouraging, but time is quickly running out for Rojas to get synced up before the team needs to make a decision. Maybe his elite defense will help buy him time to work on things in the early goings of the regular season.

When asked about Rojas' chance of getting going before Opening Day by Zolecki, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski towed the company line — still undecided and non-committal to the youngster's status.

"Rojas has been outstanding in the outfield," Dombrowski said, per Zolecki. "He has worked very, very hard. Where that leads him to make our club, I don’t know if I have a different response now than I did when camp opened. ... We know that he can really play defense in center field. But we also have another real good defensive center fielder in [Cristian] Pache. So those are things that we have to discuss further, and I don’t know where that’s going to take us."

Checking in on the Phillies' other outfield options

Whit Merrifield will be first off the bench. With the way he's playing this spring, he might force himself into the left field spot if Rojas starts the year in Triple-A and Brandon March slides to center. In 29 at-bats, he has a .379 average and a 1.172 OPS, with two home runs, four doubles, and a triple with only two strikeouts.

Like Merrifield, the other contenders for outfield and bench spots have been much more productive than Rojas in their spring training at-bats.

Cristian Pache has a .269 average, an .834 OPS, and two home runs in 26 at-bats. However, the 25-year-old has struck out his fair share, punching out 11 times with just one walk.

Jake Cave has a higher batting average (.348) than Pache but has yet to tap into his power, with no home runs and an .810 OPS. In 23 at-bats, he has struck out less than Pache and Rojas, with only five so far.

Both Pache and Cave are out of options, so if they don't make the team will have to clear waivers to be assigned to Triple-A. Pache, the younger option with top-prospect pedigree, is the presumed favorite. But it's hard to tell what the Phillies are planning.

Two non-roster veterans emerge as dark horses

To complicate matters further, the Phillies signed veteran journeyman Jordan Luplow to a minor league deal on Friday, adding another experienced player to the already crowded competition. He made a strong first impression in his Phillies debut on Sunday, going 2-for-2 with a home run, a single, and a hit-by-pitch.

Luplow had been having a good spring with the Atlanta Braves before their Adam Duvall signing pushed him out. The right-handed hitting Luplow posted a .276 batting average with eight hits, three home runs, and seven RBI in 29 at-bats with the Braves.

David Dahl, the dark horse in the race, has been trying to turn some heads this spring, as Corey Seidman reports for NBC Sports Philadelphia. With a .296 average and .963 OPS, he has produced seven RBI with a pair of home runs and three doubles. He has kept his strikeouts down to six in 27 at-bats.

"He's been great," manager Rob Thomson said, per Seidman. "He's actually looked pretty good against left-handed pitching, the couple at-bats he's had. He's another depth piece for us, another option for us."

As a non-roster invitee, Dahl isn't currently on the 40-man roster, so he will have a tough time getting an Opening Day job in the big leagues with the Phillies. But there's still a chance.

The situation should clear itself up in the next week, and we'll get a better idea of how much faith the team has in Rojas' bat. It would be nice to have his glove in the Opening Day lineup, but there's still no guarantee at this time.

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