After Demotion to Triple-A, What Is Next for Phillies Outfielder Johan Rojas?

After Demotion to Triple-A, What Is Next for Phillies Outfielder Johan Rojas? Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Johan Rojas (18) hits an RBI single during the seventh inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia Phillies regained a key piece of their lineup on Monday when shortstop Trea Turner was activated off the 10-day injured list. In a corresponding move, the team sent outfielder Johan Rojas down to Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

Faced with a tough decision on who to send down, the Phillies elected to demote the 23-year old outfielder from the Dominican Republic. The other candidates, particularly David Dahl, Cristian Pache and Whit Merrifield, would have had to pass through waivers in order to be sent down to Lehigh Valley. Rojas was the only player under consideration who still had Minor League options remaining.

Roster flexibility was not the only reason why Rojas was sent down to Triple-A. The 23-year old has been struggling at the dish this season, slashing .235/.271/.295 in 196 plate appearances. His numbers at the plate took a drastic nosedive from where they were at last season. Rojas, after being called up to the majors in July 2023, finished the 2023 season hitting .302 with a .771 OPS in 164 plate appearances. His offensive production was powered by an unsustainable .410 batting average on balls in play. Rojas was then exposed last postseason. He hit just 4-for-43 with 15 strikeouts through 13 postseason games. The Phillies hoped Rojas would make strides at the dish this season. His numbers have instead looked more like they did in October.

Rojas was never expected to provide much at the plate. His elite fielding ability was enough to offset any concerns about his lack of offensive production. Despite playing in just 59 games last season, Rojas finished fourth among center fielders with an astronomical 15 defensive runs saved. His defense took a step down so far this season. He is currently 23rd among center fielders in outs above average. Considering his struggles offensively, the Phillies need Rojas to be elite defensively to warrant keeping him on the roster.

The Phillies were also previously able to absorb having Rojas’ below-average offensive production in the lineup. However, injuries to J.T. Realmuto and the struggles of Nick Castellanos have made it more difficult to keep Rojas in the batting order. Replacing Rojas with someone who can provide more pop offensively has become a necessity.

According to Matt Gelb of The Athletic, the Phillies are planning on utilizing a pair of platoons in the outfield. They will have Brandon Marsh and Pache split time in center field. Dahl and Merrifield will platoon in left field. Paul Casella of also reported Edmundo Sosa will get tested out in left field. According to Casella, Sosa “took some pregame work in left field on Monday and will continue doing so in the coming days.” Adding more pop in the outfield via a trade before the July 30 MLB Trade Deadline is also a possibility.

Where does that leave Rojas moving forward? Phillies manager Rob Thomson made it clear the team has a few things they want to see him improve on.

“There were some things we explained to him that he needed to do: Cut down his swing, use the field and be able to bunt,” Thomson said. “Those are the things that we need, because if he’s doing what he can do on offense – which is just be a table setter, really – with him playing center field, that’s probably the best version of our club.”

Thomson emphasized to reporters on Monday he sees this demotion as just a detour for Rojas.

“Absolutely,” Thomson said. “As I said, if he’s doing that, the things that we want him to do, with him playing center field, I believe that’s the best version of us.”

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