TEMPE, Ariz. —Jose Rojas might be forcing his way on to the Angels’ roster.
At first glance, there is no good fit for how the Angels would use Rojas, but he has hit the ball so well in spring training that Manager Joe Maddon conceded he’s leading to some tough decisions.
“It’s hard to run away from a bat like that,” Maddon said this week.
Rojas is 8 for 14 with two doubles and two home runs this spring. He’s walked five times and struck out just twice.
Certainly, that’s too small of a sample size to draw many conclusions, but Rojas is a player who fought his way to the big leagues with a bat that looked so good the Angels could overlook his lack of a true defensive position.
Rojas, 29, responded by hitting just .208 with a .676 OPS in 184 plate appearances.
He hit .190 with a .610 OPS before he was sent back to Triple-A in early June. After he returned, he had 54 plate appearances over two stints and he hit .255 with an .841 OPS.
“Last year, we kept him on a team because we saw a lot of the same thing (hitting well in spring training),” Maddon said. “I think the difference now is he’s going to do that during the season. When he came up the second time, I thought we all saw the real talent there. The first time he might have got a little bit quick on him, but right now the guy’s a major-league hitter.”
Rojas conceded he feels different now than a year ago.
“It just allows you to be confident without imagining what (the big leagues) are like,” the Anaheim native and Anaheim High graduate said. “You know what it’s like. So it’s a confidence booster. It feels good to be back with the same mindset of doing the best you can contribute to the team, one way or another.”
How he would contribute remains to be seen.
Rojas is a left-handed hitter, so he can’t really platoon with Jared Walsh at first base. The Angels no longer need him at second base, because they have a lefty (Tyler Wade) and a righty (Matt Duffy) at that spot, with Jack Mayfield perhaps also making the roster.
Rojas could play some third base when Anthony Rendon needs a day off.
Rojas could be a corner outfielder. The top three corner outfielders – Justin Upton, Jo Adell and Taylor Ward – are all right-handed hitters.
His best role might be as the Angels’ top pinch-hitting option.
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The Angels began camp with five players in the running to pair with Fletcher in the middle infield. Duffy signed a major-league contract and Wade is out of options, so the true competition was among Luis Rengifo, Andrew Velazquez and Mayfield.
On the off day on Wednesday, the Angels optioned Rengifo and Velazquez, leaving Mayfield.
“Jack Mayfield proved to me last year that he was a lot more than I thought,” Maddon said. “With the bat and in the field when he was in Houston, the way they used him, I just thought he was a Judy, just slap the ball around a little bit. Give a guy a day off because they had nobody else. But that’s not true. This guy’s really good. He’s a good defender. He’s a good base runner. He’s got pop. He’s a great teammate. He’s a tough guy. Never complain. … I don’t think there’d be any manager in the league that would not like to have him once you get to know everything that he can do and what he’s about. He’s good.”
At this point, it seems the Angels are trying to decide which one or two of Rojas, Mayfield or Brandon Marsh will make the Opening Day Roster. If they go with 10 relievers, one will make it, and if they go with nine, they can keep two.
The bubble relievers include José Marte, Oliver Ortega, Jimmy Herget, Kyle Barraclough and Brian Moran. One or two of them will make it.
All of this applies to a 28-man roster. Starting on May 2, the roster will be cut to 26 players.
Maddon also said the Angels have decided on their No. 6 starter, but he couldn’t announce it yet. Reid Detmers, who is scheduled to start the Angels’ exhibition game on Friday, is expected to win the spot. Jaime Barria, who is out of options, would likely be a part of the Angels’ bullpen.
Major League Baseball officially announced its new rules, including the “Amended Designated Hitter Rule,” which is likely to be more commonly called the Ohtani Rule. It allows a player to start on the mound and at DH, and be treated as two separate players for purposes of substations. It’s a significant help to the Angels, because Ohtani can now remain in the game at DH even when he’s done pitching.
MLB also officially announced that it will use the extra-inning rule with a runner starting at second base, and the roster expansion.
Once rosters revert to 26 in May, teams will be limited to 13 pitchers. This could be an advantage for the Angels, because Ohtani doesn’t count as a pitcher, but the Angels are using a six-man rotation. They’ll still be limited to the same eight-man bullpen as teams with a five-man rotation.