If you have the need for speed, then Johan Rojas is your guy. And he wants to be that guy, too. It’s not hard to envision Philly Flash (Phlash?) posters and T-shirts blowing up when the speedster makes it to the big leagues.
The Phillies’ No. 5 prospect is quite possibly the fastest player in the Arizona Fall League. He was showing it off early for the Surprise Saguaros, going 6-fot-6 in stolen base attempts while making several impressive running catches in center field over his first eight games. This should come as no surprise to anyone who’s watched Rojas in the Phillies’ Minor League system.
Rojas swiped 34 bags in 96 games of the 2021 season, then upped his game big time in that regard in 2022. Playing most of the year at age 21 (he turned 22 in August), the outfielder was an astounding 62-for-67 in stolen base attempts. After going 33-for-34 in stolen base attempts with High-A Jersey Shore, he was nearly as uncatchable in Double-A (29-for-33).
“I love to steal bases,” Rojas said. “It’s one of my favorite things to do. As soon as I hit first base I turn into the runner that I can be, and I prepare to give my teammate at bat the best chance that he can get.”
Rojas recognized his standout tool early in life and it’s clearly his passion to use it to his -- and his team’s -- advantage.
"When I was young, I figured out that I was fast," Rojas said. “I decided it was my skill, and I wanted to show it on the field.”
Rojas uses it equally on both sides of the ball, combining excellent reads and routes, not to mention an above-average arm, to be a potentially elite-level defender in center field.
“I enjoy using my speed, especially in center field once I realized that it was something that I could do,” Rojas said. “I started to tell myself, 'No one’s going to go past this point. If you’re going to score, it’s because you’re going to hit it out of the field.' The goal is to always give 100 percent, whether I’m batting or in center field.”
One thing Rojas does need to work on is his approach at the plate. He has impressive bat-to-ball skills, but that’s often made him an aggressive swinger who expands the zone too often. He’ll always be a speed-first guy, but the Phillies have worked with him to drive the ball more and not just beat it into the ground.
“I’m going to do what I can at bat; I’m going to do what I do best,” Rojas said. “The goal is always to [score] runs and not necessarily always hit them out, but I’m doing my part and getting the runs in.”
Phillies hitters in the Fall League
Carlos De La Cruz, 1B/OF: Signed back in 2017, De La Cruz had a bit of a breakout year in 2022, with 17 homers across two levels. He’s 6-foot-8 with a ton of raw power to tap into, and there could be more of that as he continues to work on refining his approach at the plate. He’s capable of solid outfield play, but in the Fall League he’s focusing on continuing to learn how to play first base, which he played for the first time this past season.
Jhailyn Ortiz, OF (No. 17): Ortiz had made some strides in terms of pitch recognition and plate discipline in 2021 and was added to the 40-man roster. While he still showed glimpses of his tremendous raw power with a move to Double-A in 2022, his strikeout rate went up and his walk rate dropped a little. He’s continuing to work on that approach this fall.
Phillies pitchers in the Fall League
Francisco Morales, RHP (No. 11): Morales made the full-time move to the bullpen in 2022 and was often dominant with Double-A Reading. He struggled in Triple-A, though he did make his big league debut. He has the stuff to be a high-leverage reliever, but needs to keep working on his command and finding the strike zone more consistently.
Taylor Lehman, LHP: A 6-foot-6 left-hander, Lehman came back from Tommy John surgery and is in Arizona mostly to continue getting reps on the mound. He has two good breaking balls in his hard slider and curve, but they can blend together at times, so he’s working on separating the two.
Brett Schulze, RHP: Schulze also missed time with injury and is making up for some lost innings and building himself back. He can run his fastball up to 95 mph, and has a good slider and a changeup as well. He’s working on fastball command and the shape of his slider.