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8:01 PM / Thursday April 18, 2024

17 Jul 2023

Minor League prospect hopes to make his mark with the Phillies

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July 17, 2023 Category: Sports Posted by:

In his first weekend in the Majors, outfielder Johan Rojas wowed the crowds.

By Chris Murray

For the Philadelphia Sunday SUN

ABOVE PHOTO: Philadelphia Phillies’ Johan Rojas bunts for a run-scoring single against San Diego Padres pitcher Adrian Morejon during the sixth inning of the second baseball game in a doubleheader, Saturday, July 15, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

When outfielder Johan Rojas got the call that he was going to be promoted from Double-A Reading to join the Philadelphia Phillies, the only people more excited about than he was were his family.

“I was in Reading with a few friends enjoying a barbecue when Preston Mattingly, Al Predrique (Reading Phightin Phils manager), and Edwin Soto (Phillies manager of player development) called to give me the news. I was so excited, I started jumping,” Rojas said speaking through team interpreter Diego Ettedgui. “My wife cried, my brother, was super-excited. He was shaking. It was really emotional. I called my mom, she started to cry. “

And the Phillies are happy as well. Rojas, who was the sixth-highest rated prospect in minor leagues according to MLB.com, got the opportunity to play with the big-league club because reserve outfielder Cristian Pache was placed on the 10-day injured list because of right elbow irritation.

As he sat with reporters in the Phillies dugout, Rojas couldn’t hide his enthusiasm about being with the big club, something he had dreamed about as a kid playing MLB The Show on PlayStation in San Francisco de Macoris, Dominican Republic.

“It’s incredible, it’s something that I’ve always dreamed about and even when I played on my PlayStation sometimes, I would be like yeah, I can be one of those guys,” Rojas said. “I’m finally here. Even when I got to the ballpark today, I said ‘Wow.’ I had to pinch myself. I’m actually here. I made it.”

Of course, Rojas has to show that he can stay here for a significant amount of time. That means he has to make the most of every at-bat whether he’s a starter or a pinch-hitter.

“I’m going to give my 100 percent. I hate losing,” Rojas said. “(Thomson) told me that I was mostly I’m going to play against left-handed pitchers. I’m going to cover Pache’s role now that he’s on the (injured list).”

Before leaving to come up to the Phillies, Rojas was tearing up AA ball. He has a .306 batting average to go along with a .361 on-base percentage and a .484 slugging percentage. He has .845 ops (combination of on base and slugging percentage).  He currently leads the Eastern League in hits (98), triples, and runs scored. Rojas ranks second in stolen bases with 30 and has nine home runs.

During his weekend debut against the San Diego Padres, Rojas faced better pitching than he did in Double-A level.

He recognized the need to be patient.

“I’m going be selective, swing at strikes, and just be faithful to my game plan,” he said.

In his first Major League game against the Padres on Saturday, he went 0-for-3 at the plate but made a huge splash for his prowess with the glove in center field.

In the first inning, Padres right fielder Fernando Tatis Jr. hit a deep flyball to centerfield that Rojas caught while crashing against the fence in front of the Phillies bullpen. He then had the presence of mind to throw the ball to first base to get Padres lead-off hitter Ha-Seong Kim out at first base and record his first major league outfield assist.

“It was incredible,” said Rojas. “It was the second batter of the game and the excitement from the fans was amazing and it was a special moment.”

Phillies manager Rob Thomson said Rojas, 22, will give the Phillies a right-handed bat as a pinch-hitter, pinch-runner, and possibly in leftfield to give Kyle Schwarber a rest.

“He’s had a great year, he’s got power and he’s one of the best centerfielders in the game,” said Phillies manager Rob Thomson. “He’s on the roster. It’s the right move.”

Whether he comes as a pinch-hitter, a defensive replacement, a pinch-runner, or a spot starter, Rojas said he will bring his competitive spirit and his own desire to win. 

“I came to bring my energy day in and day out,” he said. “I came here to win. I’m going to be available for whatever they need me for. It’s great to be here and I’m ready for any task they want me to do.”

In the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader, Rojas gave the fans a glimpse of his offensive potential by getting three hits in the Phillies’ 9-4 win. Not only did he get his first major league hit, Rojas got his first major league run batted in on a bunt single and he also had a RBI single in the bottom of the seventh.

“I didn’t have a hit in the first game, but the one thing you need to know about me is that I am going to give my 100 percent every single time,” Rojas said through the Phillies team interpreter Diego Ettedgui. “The first game I didn’t have a hit, but the second game it happened. It was great.”

Rojas’s first weekend in the majors drew the praise of his new teammates including the 2021 National League MVP.

“What a first inning (Game 1) (Rojas) had right there,” said Phillies designated hitter Bryce Harper. “His first day in the big leagues he makes an incredible play. I was getting treatment and I was like, ‘Holy crap.’ What a great play. It’s really fun to watch him play. He’s had a great year in the minor leagues. I’m excited to see him run, excited to see him play … We know how dynamic of a player he can be, so excited to see him get going.”

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