Johan Rojas overcomes poor spring with the bat to make the Opening Day roster. Now what?

The gifted defender will give the Phillies Gold Glove defense in center field but how long is the leash at the plate?

Philadelphia Phillies center fielder Johan Rojas has made the Opening Day roster
Philadelphia Phillies center fielder Johan Rojas has made the Opening Day roster / Rich Storry/GettyImages

The question on every Philadelphia Phillies fan's mind all spring training has finally been answered: Johan Rojas will begin the season on the major league roster and will be patrolling center field for the Phillies' home opener on Thursday. News of Rojas' addition to the 26-man roster comes less than a week after team officials were still on the fence about sending the youngster to Triple-A following a rough spring training at the plate.

There were signs over the last couple of days that the team was leaning towards a decision favoring Rojas when they sent outfielders Jordan Luplow and David Dahl down to minor league camp in a series of late camp roster cuts. On Sunday, the Phillies all but confirmed the news, per's Todd Zolecki, when they dealt veteran Jake Cave to the Colorado Rockies for cash considerations and sent Kody Clemens to Triple-A. That left Rojas and Cristian Pache as the clear winners in this spring's outfield competition.

Rojas has been a hot-button topic this spring

What to do with Rojas has been a divisive discussion that has played out among Phillies fans all winter and well into spring training. Rob Thomson was adamant in the offseason that Rojas would have to earn his spot on the roster this spring following a rough showing in last year's playoffs. The defensively gifted 23-year-old was a liability at the plate last postseason and seemed over-matched against elite major league pitching when he hit a terrible .093 with only four hits and 15 strikeouts in 43 at-bats.

Following an offseason hitting regimen that many hoped would help Rojas make the proper adjustments at the plate, he struggled mightily from the outset of exhibition play in Florida. This spring, Rojas hit .167 with eight hits and eight strikeouts in 48 at-bats while only drawing one walk. Despite strong showings from Luplow, Dahl, and Cave in camp, the Phillies were ultimately willing to sacrifice some offense to keep Rojas' Gold Glove-caliber defense on the field to start the season.

How long of a leash should the Phillies give Rojas?

The Phillies learned a valuable lesson about the importance of outfield defense last season following a shambolic run with Kyle Schwarber playing left field. The Phillies received a shot in the arm when Bryce Harper returned to the field midseason and took over the everyday role of first base. Schwarber reclaimed the DH role, and Brandon Marsh took over left-field duties, opening up a spot for Rojas in center — a game-changing move.

The Phillies saw enough during that short two-month window to not want to repeat the poor outfield defense that plagued the team during the first half of last season to begin this year. By awarding Rojas the center field job, the Phillies hope for a best-case scenario where the talented youngster hits just enough not to hurt the team while continuing to play stellar defense. It's a risk they're willing to take after pressure and poor performance sidetracked the career of former top prospect Scott Kingery (subscription required), as The Athletic's Matt Gelb recounts.

A positive to take away from all this is that the Phillies have more than one backup plan in the event that Rojas is sent down at any time this season. Brandon Marsh is no stranger to centerfield and can slide back to the position if necessary. Free agent signing Whit Merrifield is sure to get some time in left field this season as the team tries to keep his legs and bat fresh while serving in a super-utility role. Cristian Pache has the tools to play all three outfield positions and had a nice spring at the plate.

The Phillies also have depth at the minor league level, assuming David Dahl and Jordan Luplow remain in the organization after recently being assigned to minor league camp. The Phillies' insurance policies in the event that Rojas fails seem to have been very well considered, and the team will probably not hesitate to make a change of some type if Rojas' bat needs a little more minor-league seasoning.

Johan Rojas' performance will be one of the major narratives to watch as the team begins the 2024 season. The Phillies have taken the risk, and now it's on Rojas to prove his doubters wrong. Phillies fans will be happy if Rojas can live up to the Gold Glove hype while rooting for him to hit just enough to become an above-average major league ballplayer for years to come.