By Stu Matthews, Angels Nation managing editor
If you look at the stat sheets every day, you’ve got to be noticing the name of Jose Rojas always high in the batting stats for the Angels while they’re in the spring training.
Right now, Rojas is batting .381 with two homers and a 1.277 OPS in only 21 at-bats.
You might see him batting — and see how his vicious left-handed swing lashes line drives all over the ballpark.
And you might ask yourself: Why can’t this guy hit his way into a job in Angels Stadium?
Rojas is 28 now, 10 years removed from graduating from Anaheim High School where he grew up cheering for the Angels. Now, like last year, he’s an organizational player, and possibly close to his last chance of playing for the team he loved as a boy.
“I’ve always felt I’ve been ready,” Rojas told the Orange County Register. “It’s a matter of opportunity. That’s out of my control. I’ve just got to keep working.”
And hitting and hitting and hitting. Rojas may have not been blessed by the luck of being able to become noticed — but he was definitely blessed with the ability to hit.
The quiet Anaheim kid has a career .852 OPS across his minor-league career and in 2019, the last full season of minor league ball, Rojas batted .293 with 31 homers for a .938 OPS. Surely, those numbers should be able to get this man a job?
“Jose has lit a lot of pitchers up,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said. “His bat plays. It’s played for a long time. Every place this guy has gone, he’s hit. And he’s going to continue to do so. There’s no doubt in my mind.
“So now, it’s defense.”
And this is the problem about why Rojas — a former 36th round draft pick — has found it difficult to latch on as a utility infielder despite his ability to rake.
The powerfully built, 6-foot, 200-pounder hasn’t played shortstop at the professional level consistently.
Which is strange, because Rojas was drafted as a shortstop. He played short at Vanguard University, an NAIA school in Costa Mesa, California.
But he hasn’t played a single game at the professional level at shortstop — ever. He’s played 200 games at third base, 70 at second base, and 57 at first. None at short.
“His main position will always be the left-handed batter’s box,” Maddon said.
He’s even pitched a inning for Salt Lake City in AAA in 2019 for Pete’s Sake! But yes, being able to play shortstop would clear the path to the majors for Rojas.
Maddon loves Rojas, even comparing him to veterans like Tommy La Stella, Daniel Murphy and Mike Moustakas — all of whom were known for their explosive bats but had to be flipped around the field in hopes of finding a suitable defensive position.
With the Angels, the pickings look thin. Rojas is best at third and first base, and for Rojas to get his shot, unfortunately it would require an injury to Anthony Rendon, Jared Walsh or Albert Pujols.
The Angels will probably only carry one utility infielder, and Franklin Barreto and Luis Rengifo can play all four spots around the infield — even if they can’t hit with anywhere near the authority that Rojas can.
Rojas keeps holding out hope. “The story speaks for itself,” he said. “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.”
Perhaps in an ideal world, the Angels could somehow get Rojas onto the Opening Day roster so he could at least play one game for his hometown club. … And then perhaps package Rojas in a trade to a team that really could use a third baseman who can absolutely rake, and Rojas would have a chance to play every day.