Rojas raring to pursue dream of becoming Cubs' shortstop

March 16th, 2024

MESA, Ariz. -- While rain pounded a tarp covering the Sloan Park diamond on Friday afternoon, a group of Cubs prospects headed to the ballpark’s concourse to sign autographs. If the weather was not going to play along with the inaugural Spring Breakout showcase, at least fans could walk away with a memento.

Cubs prospect Jefferson Rojas was blown away by how many people lined up.

“I've never signed that many autographs in my life,” Rojas said via team interpreter Fredy Quevedo. “They care. The love that these fans have, it was incredible.”

Even though the Cubs’ Spring Breakout game against the White Sox prospects was canceled due to rain, Rojas was still honored to be included on the North Siders’ roster. Rojas was the only teenager in the planned starting lineup for either team and was going to be the starting shortstop for the Cubs.

Rojas has been dreaming of becoming the starting shortstop for the Cubs since he was a kid. He loved watching Javier Báez play and imagined himself playing with him someday in Chicago. Báez was traded away in 2021, but Rojas’ fandom still played a small part in his decision to sign with the Cubs out of the Dominican Republic in January of ‘22.

“That's my guy. That's who I wanted to play with,” Rojas said of Báez. “That's the guy that I want to emulate. That's the guy I want to look up to. So it originally kind of started off with Javier Báez. I was like, ‘I can play that position, as well.’”

The Cubs dealt Báez to the Mets in 2021 as part of a drastic overhauling of both the Major League roster and the farm system. The key piece in that particular trade was center fielder Pete Crow-Armstrong, who is now the Cubs’ top prospect and the No. 16-ranked prospect overall by MLB Pipeline.

Pipeline currently rates the Cubs as having baseball’s second-best farm system, which had six of its seven Top 100 players included on the Breakout roster. That included Crow-Armstrong, righty Cade Horton (No. 26), outfielder Owen Caissie (No. 47), infielder Matt Shaw (No. 54), outfielder Kevin Alcántara (No. 65) and infielder James Triantos (No. 73).

“Every organization labels their players as prospects,” Cubs manager Craig Counsell said, “because we want to believe in our players, for sure. I think the great thing that the Cubs have going on right now is that there's a lot of kids you can talk about and that's fun, because they're all on this journey to try to become guys.”

There has been a growing buzz around Rojas, who is climbing the rankings at a pace that could lead to him being a Top 100 prospect soon, as well. The shortstop was unranked by Pipeline going into the 2022 season, but was No. 11 by the middle of the summer. Rojas now checks in at No. 10 in Pipeline’s preseason Top 30 list for the Cubs this year.

Rojas was unaware that he was ranked until one of his youth managers from the D.R. reached out to congratulate him.

“I actually didn’t know,” Rojas said. “He told me, ‘Hey, young lad. Good job. Keep doing what you're doing. And maybe next year you can be Top Five. Who knows?’”

Rojas, who will turn 19 on April 25, signed for a $1 million bonus and hit .303/.391/.407 in his 45-game pro debut in the Dominican Summer League in 2022. Last season, he played just one game in the Arizona Complex League before Chicago felt confident enough to push him up to Single-A Myrtle Beach.

In 70 games in the Carolina League -- where Rojas was roughly three years younger than the average position player -- he hit .268/.345/.404 with seven homers, 14 doubles, 31 RBIs, 48 runs, 73 hits and 13 stolen bases. He was impressive enough at shortstop that his arrival in June pushed Chicago's No. 24 prospect Cristian Hernandez to second base.

“He's mature beyond his years,” Cubs assistant general manager Jared Banner said. “Sometimes I watch him play and I can't believe he's 18 years old. He can really slow the game down at the plate. Great approach. Beautiful swing. Excellent defender at shortstop. Good hands. Good internal clock. Great arm.

“He can just do so many things on the baseball field really well at a really young age."

It could be a good autograph for fans to have snagged while at the Spring Breakout.

“This tells me that I can definitely be somebody in the organization,” Rojas said of being included in the event. “I'm just ready for whatever the future holds. I'm ready for any opportunity.”