LOS ANGELES -- One particular question has pestered the Dodgers since the end of last season: What are they to do at shortstop? And every time it seems they’ve found an answer, a wrench has been thrown into their plans.
“Our hope is that in 10 days, he'll be back with us,” said manager Dave Roberts. “Miguel wanted to play, felt he could kind of manage it, but we've tried that and it hasn't fared well. So we just felt [we should] kind of nip it, get him on the IL and travel with us, and get him back when the IL stint is up.”
Rojas was already the fallback option as the Dodgers’ primary shortstop. Trea Turner didn't re-sign with Los Angeles in free agency, and it didn't sign any of the other big-name shortstops available in the offseason, with the idea that Gavin Lux would hold down the job in 2023. The Dodgers acquired Rojas from the Marlins to serve as Lux’s backup, sending back a strong defensive shortstop prospect in Jacob Amaya.
Then, Lux tore his right ACL and sprained his right LCL in a Feb. 27 Spring Training game, ending his season and thrusting Rojas into the starting role. There were plenty of question marks surrounding the 34-year-old Rojas, who had battled injuries throughout 2022 and underwent right wrist surgery over the offseason before dealing with lower-body issues throughout Spring Training. And behind Rojas, the Dodgers’ shortstop depth was thin, with the versatile Chris Taylor as the only other player on the depth chart as of Opening Day.
Now, Rojas is out for at least 10 days, while Taylor has been dealing with left side discomfort (though he made a pinch-running appearance on Wednesday). The Dodgers are hopeful that Taylor will return to the lineup against the Cubs in Chicago this weekend, but for at least the next two games, they are limited in whom they can deploy at short.
It appears the interim shortstop role belongs to Luke Williams, whose contract was selected from Triple-A Oklahoma City on Tuesday when Mookie Betts went on the paternity list. Williams started there on Wednesday, going 0-for-3 while turning a nice 6-3 double play in the third inning but getting eaten up by a tough Brandon Nimmo grounder in the seventh.
There’s also Yonny Hernández, whose callup from Triple-A was the corresponding move for Rojas’ IL placement. Hernández made his Dodgers debut pinch-hitting for Williams in the ninth, grounding out to second base. He has ample professional experience at shortstop, including some reps with Los Angeles during Spring Training. With Betts returning from the paternity list in the next day or two, though, Hernández’s time with the Dodgers could be brief.
Neither Williams nor Hernández has proven himself in the Major Leagues, and beyond them, the options are sparse. After trading Amaya, the Dodgers do not have a shortstop in their Top 30 Prospects list who is expected to be MLB-ready in 2023. No. 17 prospect Eddys Leonard -- who’s with Double-A Tulsa and is on Los Angeles’ 40-man roster -- has an expected Major League arrival date of 2024. Bryson Brigman, who was promoted from Tulsa to Oklahoma City following Williams and Hernández’s MLB callups, could be another option should the need arise.
Then there’s the potential -- albeit unconventional -- move of using Gold Glove Award-winning outfielder Betts at short, as the Dodgers intended to do on Wednesday. Betts has enjoyed getting to play second base a bit this season, and he has expressed excitement about the possibility of a chance at shortstop. But since he was not ready to return from paternity leave on Wednesday, he might have missed his window.
“I think that as we look out, it's a possibility, but today was a more viable option,” said Roberts.