Angels Rojas' Raises Interest And Eyebrows In Triple-A
The Angels face a difficult decision regarding Jose Rojas, the 26-year-old corner infielder who had one of the best offensive seasons in Triple-A Salt Lake history and is eligible for the Rule 5 draft this winter.
Rojas, who grew up in Anaheim and was a 36th-round pick out of Vanguard in 2016, hit .293 with a .938 OPS, 31 homers and a Pacific Coast League-leading 107 RBIs in 126 games. He was second in the PCL with 39 doubles.
“He kind of came out of nowhere,” former Angels manager Brad Ausmus said.
Such performances typically warrant big league callups when rosters are expanded on Sept. 1, but Rojas, who is not on the 40-man roster, did not join the Angels. The club had eight infielders on the active roster at the time and expected Tommy La Stella to return from a leg injury in late September.
The Angels must decide by November if they want to add Rojas to the 40-man roster or leave him exposed to another organization, a decision muddled by the difficulty teams are having evaluating triple-A players in the high-altitude PCL.
Triple-A homers jumped precipitously with the introduction of the MLB baseball this season, from 3,652 homers in 2018 to 5,749 homers in 2019, so differentiating raw talent from artificial inflation is tricky.
“Power numbers were off the charts,” Ausmus said. “I’ve said it many times, for pitchers you can only judge strikeouts and walks because they’re getting hit so hard it’s unfair. Hitters are a little more difficult.
“The hitting coaches are evaluating the players less on statistics and more on what they’re seeing. But it’s tough to not get influenced by someone hitting 30 homers because you just go back to your frame of reference—30 homers is a lot in Triple-A. Or it used to be.”
The left-handed-hitting Rojas keeps his barrel through the zone for line-drive contact and can drop the head on pitches low and inside for long home runs to right field, but he seemed to sacrifice some of the plate discipline he displayed in his first three minor league seasons for power this season.
He struck out 131 times and drew just 58 walks in 578 plate appearances, a strikeout rate that might deter the Angels from protecting him from the Rule 5 draft—and other teams from taking a chance on him.