Rojas already helping LA on the field and off it

The veteran has been proving his worth defensively while also mentoring a top prospect

March 13th, 2023

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- When the Dodgers acquired in January from the Marlins, the veteran infielder was slated to be a depth piece, acting as another versatile tool who is able to fill in gaps when called upon. But Gavin Lux’s right ACL tear and surgery have pushed Rojas into the starting shortstop role, at least for the beginning of the season. The 34-year-old understands the magnitude of the situation, feeling more than ready to handle the task that’s been thrust upon him. 

“I knew what to expect when I walked in, actually fitting in with the club and what they’ve been doing for the last several years -- it had me pretty excited,” Rojas said. “But being here in camp and being able to contribute and make them feel comfortable even when something bad happened to them. I want to make them feel that they got a guy that can plug in at shortstop and play every day.”

This spring, Rojas has impressed on both sides of the ball -- batting .333 with a slugging percentage of .542, adding stellar defense from shortstop to boot. Against the Cubs on Thursday, Rojas made two outstanding diving plays, ranging both to his left and right to get the out at first. His 2022 season was a down year at the plate, with a slash line of .236/.283/.323. His expected batting average was a bit higher at .263, per Statcast, and he also sat in the 95th percentile in strikeout percentage. But his impact on the defensive side made up for his hitting struggles tenfold.

He amassed a 2.5 wins above replacement, per Baseball Reference, almost completely due to his prowess at shortstop. He was in the 98th percentile in outs above average and prevented eight runs, acting as an anchor for the Marlins' infield. Manager Dave Roberts believes that Rojas’ abilities will be a weapon in the very near future. 

“I think it’s really going to show itself without the shift this year,” said Roberts, speaking to the stability Rojas provides to the left side of the infield. “And so, not only getting to baseballs, but the ability to finish plays with arm strength and accuracy. With the numbers, as far as defensive WAR, whatever the statistics may be, he’s going to be right at the top -- he’s a plus, Major League shortstop.”

Upon his return to Los Angeles (he made his Majors debut with the Dodgers in 2014), Rojas became one of the more experienced position players on a roster that became considerably younger in the offseason. Yet, even his status as an elder statesman doesn’t prevent him from acting as a sponge. Surrounded by All Stars, MVPs and world champions, Rojas sees this new chapter as a unique opportunity to grow, even going into his 10th big league season.

“You’re always learning in this game -- with as much information that you can collect and gather, you’re going to be better in the long run,” Rojas said. “I’m trying to be a better player every single day. [In this locker room] I’m seeing different ways to approach preparation and it’s really cool to see how everybody on their own prepared for the same goal.”

On the flip side, Rojas is already making an impact on his young double-play partner, No. 3 prospect . As throwing partners on the back fields, their chemistry improves every day, strengthening a bond that’s been growing since Rojas was traded to the Dodgers.

“He’s been a great mentor for me,” Vargas said. “The way he’s helped me at the field every day, it’s been a great thing for me.”

Rojas' proactive mentorship stems from an understanding of what the 23-year-old Vargas has gone through to reach this point. Back in 2006, Rojas signed with the Reds out of Venezuela as a teenager, while Vargas and his family defected from Cuba when he was 16. 

“It’s been a pretty good relationship since the day I met Miguel,” Rojas said. “We both live in Miami, we both come from another country. Knowing he’s from Cuba and I’m from Venezuela, we speak the same language. I was in that situation a couple of years ago, and now with experience, I can actually help to mentor him a little bit. Sharing the things I went through -- that he’s going to go through -- so he’s a little more prepared for the challenge.”