Rojas' glove keeps him in second-base mix
Defensive prowess of Dodgers prospect draws comparisons to Vizquel
LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers continue to talk to free-agent infielder Michael Young, who would be an ideal safety net for their uncertain situation at second base.
But if Young retires or signs elsewhere, and the planets align, could the starting second baseman Opening Day in Australia be Miguel Rojas?
General manager Ned Colletti didn't rule that out last week when Rojas was the most unlikely of the 15 invitees to the Dodgers' Player Development Camp.
"He's played more shortstop than he has anyplace else, but we're expanding that this week a little bit and we'll continue to expand in the spring," Colletti said of Rojas. "I think he's game for the situation, I think he wants the opportunity and we're going to give him that chance. We still have questions at second base."
Ideally, the Dodgers would start the season with Cuban rookie Alexander Guerrero at second base. Colletti said last week that Guerrero is "leading the pack today" for the job. That's why the Dodgers gave him a four-year, $28 million contract. But Guerrero is not only unproven, he was hobbled during the Dominican Winter League with a hamstring issue. And he's a natural shortstop who still needs work on the subtleties on the other side of the infield.
Guerrero was signed because of his offense, which makes him the opposite of Rojas. Dodgers veterans, seeing Rojas in a few Major League games last Spring Training and during infield drills, compared his glove skills to 11-time Gold Glove winner Omar Vizquel. The bar can't get higher than that.
But Rojas has a .234 career batting average in the Minor Leagues, coming off a .233 season at Double-A Chattanooga. So club officials took a good look at Rojas during last week's Player Development Camp, which traditionally is conducted for fast-track prospects knocking on the Major League door.
But Rojas is in the mix for Opening Day nonetheless, and he even considers his 2013 season a breakthrough of sorts just because he finally got on a club's radar in his second season with the Dodgers after six years in the Cincinnati organization.
Rojas had left wrist surgery in 2010 and injured his throwing arm in 2011. He left the Reds after splitting 2012 between Class A and Double-A and he was Chattanooga's everyday second baseman in 2013, his 130 games the most he had played since '09.
"I hoped for the opportunity to show everybody, and I got that chance last year, so it was a great season for me," Rojas said. "I didn't play that much the last two years and I was hurt and became a backup guy."
The Dodgers let Mark Ellis, their starter at second base the past two years, leave as a free agent. They are trying to work out a deal to bring back Young, whom they acquired in a Trade Deadline deal, because he could start at second base if Guerrero isn't ready or be a threatening bat off the bench.
What's intriguing about Rojas is his range and slick glove. Colletti has already said that "going defensive" at second base is a possibility and that Rojas would get "a good look" during Spring Training.
"They like the way I come to the park every day and play hard," Rojas said he's been told by club officials. "They compare my defense to Vizquel, who's my idol in Venezuela. I definitely want to be like him."
Rojas said he's spent enough time with Vizquel in their native country that he appreciates the similarity in their games. He credits Vizquel for helping him "know who I am as a hitter. I don't have to hit for power, but I can help the team defensively and get on base and run the bases."
"He told me he learned to hit left-handed late," Rojas said. "He had to understand what kind of hitter he was. That was big advice he gave to me. Playing in Venezuela the last three winters brings my confidence up, and I think I can do it in the States."
Rojas, who turns 25 next month, is 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds. He's played 589 Minor League games at shortstop and only 42 at second base. He's already in Arizona working on the move at the club's Spring Training complex in Glendale.
"It's a challenge for me," he said. "I went my whole life playing shortstop, but I try to take advantage of every chance they give me. I'm going to Arizona to work at second base and be ready to fight for a job."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.