Versatility key to SoCal native's MLB dream

Angels' Rojas is hoping his defensive improvements will help lead to a '21 debut

March 20th, 2021

TEMPE, Ariz. -- All José Rojas does is hit.

Despite being a 36th-round pick in the 2016 MLB Draft, Rojas has proven his doubters wrong at every level, including hitting .293/.362/.577 with 31 homers and 107 RBIs in 126 games at Triple-A Salt Lake in '19, and batting a combined .354/.453/.620 in 47 career Cactus League games over the past four seasons.

Rojas, though, has had trouble finding a position defensively, which has held him back and kept him off MLB Pipeline’s Angels Top 30 Prospects list. But manager Joe Maddon believes Rojas can play multiple positions, including second base, first base, third base and the outfield, which will only help him going forward. He compared him to hit-first players such as Mike Moustakas, Tommy La Stella and Daniel Murphy, who all eventually settled in at second base with some time at first base.

“His bat plays,” Maddon said. “It’s played for a long time. Where you were drafted can sometimes be impactful in a negative way. But there’s no doubt in my mind he’s going to hit. Now, it’s about defense. He’s better than I think he’s given credit for in the past. We’ve tried him out at second and I’ve been pretty satisfied.”

Rojas, an Anaheim native who attended Anaheim High School, starred as a shortstop at nearby Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, Calif. The 28-year-old hasn’t seen action at that position in the Minors, but Rojas believes being a natural shortstop helps him adapt better to moving around to different positions.

"I feel capable of playing really any position in the infield," Rojas said. "Coming out as a shortstop out of college, I feel like it gives me that edge of adapting to multiple positions."

Rojas has worked daily with third-base coach Brian Butterfield, who is renowned for helping infielders get better defensively. Maddon believes Rojas has the arm to play any position, but now it’s about improving his footwork and range.

Maddon has contemplated having Rojas on the roster as a utility player, but noted it could be tough because the club is only keeping a four-man bench to open the season and he prefers a utility player who can handle short. Franklin Barreto and Luis Rengifo are the two favorites competing for that role. But if Rojas continues to hit and improves defensively, he should make his debut at some point this season.

“His main position will always be the left-handed batter’s box, but now he’s proving or showing that he can do some other things,” Maddon said. "He's a really fascinating young man, real bright. He has great makeup and is a very interesting player who will continue to grow."

Rojas is leaning on his faith to help him not worry about not reaching the Majors yet, but believes he’ll be ready when that day comes. He spent last year working at the club’s alternate training site and is expected to open there again this year.

“I’ve always felt like I’ve been ready,” Rojas said. “Now it’s just a matter of opportunity. It’s obviously out of my hands. I just have to keep working.”

When that day comes, Rojas will have plenty of fans, as he’s become the club’s most popular Minor Leaguer on social media because of his local ties despite not ranking high on any prospect lists. Rojas said he’s noticed that support and is appreciative of the fans wishing him well.

“I think it's just something that comes with being born and raised in Anaheim,” Rojas said. “Fans know that. The story speaks for itself. It's definitely been a dream come true and at the end of the day, it would be a dream come true to put on the uniform at the Big A and help the team win."