Philadelphia Phillies center fielder Johan Rojas made his MLB debut last July. As a prospect, the 23-year-old was known for his outstanding defense. His offense abilities, on the other hand, needed some work. With a potent Phillies lineup, the front office decided that Rojas's game-changing defense outweighed his so-so hitting, and he played for the major league club the rest of the regular season and postseason.
Overall, Rojas had a better offensive season than many would have expected. In 164 plate appearances, the center fielder hit .302 and posted a .771 OPS. Of his 45 regular season hits, many were singles — he hit nine doubles, two triples, and two home runs.
Plate discipline is an area in which Rojas must improve. Last season, the center fielder struck out a 25.6 percent rate — almost three percent higher than the MLB average. He also only walked at a 3.1 percent rate, 5.5 percent below the MLB average.
In the postseason, Rojas seemed overmatched in just about every trip to the dish. In 45 postseason plate appearances, the defensive-minded outfielder mustered up just four hits and one walk while striking out 15 times. During the NLDS against the Atlanta Braves, Rojas failed to get a single hit and reached base just one time.
Rojas getting to work early
While the Phillies don't need Rojas to hit like Bryce Harper or Kyle Schwarber, they need him to see the ball better and be more productive — especially in big-time postseason moments. Fortunately, the young outfielder realizes that he needs to be better. He was the first player to let hitting coach Kevin Long know that he was ready to get back into the swing of things (subscription required), according to Alex Coffey of The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Rojas has been hitting in the Dominican Republic — his native country —for a few weeks now. He has been in contact with Long, and the hitting coach has remotely watched some of his pupil's hitting sessions. So far, it seems that Long likes what he sees from his new mentee.
The Phillies' hitting guru noted some of the changes he sees in Rojas this offseason.
"You see him making good decisions. You see the takes, especially on balls where he’s quiet — you can tell that he’s seeing the ball," Long said, per Coffey. "He’s not just in swing mode. He’s actually seeing the ball first, getting himself in a good position, and attacking and staying connected about as well as I’ve seen from him. So, there are a lot of good signs right now. Not many chases, not many bad swings. He’s not off-balance. His movements are concise.”
The Phillies seem happy with their young center fielder so far. Dave Dombrowski noted early in the offseason that Rojas would have to earn a spot on the big league roster to start the season. The second-year player seems to have gotten the message loud and clear. He is a notoriously hard worker, and he has already begun putting in the time this winter.
Rojas has clearly bulked up and has started his offseason training before any other Phillies hitter. He knows what he must do to make the Opening Day roster; he'll have every chance to prove to the club that he has improved his swing and plate discipline. If the center fielder takes the next step offensively, the Phillies lineup will certainly be a force to be reckoned with.