Rojas works on better discipline at the plate

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Johan Rojas beamed as he recalled times a teammate was impressed by his batting skills.

Specifically, pitches where nobody in the world makes contact.

In a way, that explains why the 21-year-old Rojas is one of the most promising prospects in the Phillies organization. He is really fast. He can steal a base and run after a ball in center field. He has a solid arm. He has posted some of the best exit speeds in the organization in recent years, but he also has tremendous contact ability. It’s a gift, but it’s something Rojas has been judiciously controlling during his tour of Phillies farms, ranking as the club’s sixth-best prospectaccording to MLB Pipeline.

“Since I signed, they have told me that I have to work on closing my zone, because that way I can hit wherever I want,” Rojas explained. “Hitting whatever you want can be more dangerous than what I’m doing right now. So I’m trying to close it down, be more selective, trust my eyes and my ability to hit the ball.”

In other words, just because you can hit pretty much everything you swing at doesn’t mean you should.

“Because he has great contact ability, we can build his confidence in hitting with two strikes,” Phillies minor league hitting coordinator Jason Ochart said. “It gives him the ability to be a little more selective with less than two strikes. So a big approach for him has been to wait until he has two strikes in the count, pick a zone and attack. Because a player like him can do damage, we don’t want him wasting at-bats chasing pitches early.”

“We talked about winning pitches. That’s a great approach. Sometimes winning a pitch can mean letting a strike go, if it’s spotted right. So he has to know the strike zone and recognize his strengths within the zone, and then be aggressive with those pitches.”

The native of San Francisco de Macorís has seen some fruits of his labor with what he did last year. He hit .240/.306/.374 with seven home runs and 38 RBIs in 351 times at bat at Class-A Lower Clearwater. He was promoted to Class-A Fort Jersey Shore and hit .344/.419/.563 with seven home runs and 11 RBIs in 74 times. His strikeout rate dropped from 19.7% at Clearwater to 10.8% at Jersey Shore. While the average number of tickets for him rose from 7.4% to 9.5%.

It’s a small sample, but it’s encouraging.

“I have been mentally preparing myself to increase my percentage of barrels,” Rojas said. “I’ve been working on spreading my power across the land. When I hit the ball, I hit it with more power.”

Countless hitters try to be more selective at bat, but fail. It’s just in his DNA to keep swinging.

But Rojas cited one exercise in particular that has helped him control those urges. The Phillies call it “7 Ball Drill,” inspired by an image from Ted Williams’ book, “The Science of Hitting.”

In the book, Williams stands at home plate with an illustration of his hot and cold spots in the strike zone, made up of seven balls across. With the case of Rojas and the rest of the Phillies hitters, the development team puts a chart in front of home plate, which is divided into seven sections. No. 1 is the inside corner and No. 7 is the outside corner. The Phillies may tell Rojas he’s 0-2 and can only swing pitches in zones three and four.

When he sees pitches, he yells out the section at home plate where the ball crosses.

“We’re constantly talking about it,” Ochart said. “Hundreds and thousands of repetitions, where to swing or not, saying the zone the ball was in, before a coach validates it. ‘You’re right’ or ‘You were wrong’. That, over time, begins to be recorded.”

If Rojas continues to progress in 2022, his value will continue to rise. Many within the baseball community believe that he can be a star. Phillies manager Joe Girardi made it clear after seeing the Dominican last spring.

“I know I’m generating attention,” Rojas said. “That validates the things I’m doing right. I will continue trying to grow every day.”

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Rojas works on better discipline at the plate