Angels help José Rojas realize his lifelong dream – Press-Enterprise


TEMPE, Ariz. —  Even a couple days after he got the news from Joe Maddon, José Rojas was still having trouble processing it.

“It’s pretty surreal,” Rojas said Saturday, two days after the Angels manager told him he will be on the Angels’ Opening Day roster. “It hasn’t really sunk in yet. I’m sure it will once we get going. I’ve been working at it my entire life and I’m happy the opportunity came.”

Rojas, 28, has been hitting throughout his minor-league career, but questions about his defense had prevented him from getting a shot at the big leagues, or even much attention on prospect lists.

But Maddon said Rojas had showed enough defensive improvement this spring to give him a chance, and there was no question about his bat. Rojas is 10 for 32 (.313) with two homers and a 1.090 OPS this spring. He has a career .852 OPS in the minors, including .938 in 2019 at Triple-A.

Angels hitting coach Jeremy Reed, who had been a minor-league hitting coordinator, said he was thrilled that Rojas is getting the opportunity.

“We’ve seen him hit every level, we’ve seen him go out there and compete and work hard every day and waiting for the opportunity that he’s about to get,” Reed said. “He’s hit at every level, why wouldn’t he hit here? I’m really happy for stories like this. The icing on the cake is he’s from from the area. He’s going to have family around. He’s going to get to experience what he’s worked so hard to accomplish.”

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Rojas was born in Anaheim, attended Anaheim High, Fullerton College and Vanguard University of Southern California in Costa Mesa. The Angels selected him in the 36th round in the 2016 draft.

It became increasingly apparent they were finally giving him a look at a roster spot when he started playing second more regularly in exhibition games. On Wednesday night, it became obvious when the Angels sent out all the other middle infield candidates.

Rojas is expected to be the backup at first, second and third. He can also play left field.

On Thursday, Maddon had the happy meeting with Rojas. Maddon said he “beat around the bush” with Rojas before eventually dropping the news that he made the team. He said Rojas took it calmly.

“I guess I seemed calm, but it was definitely unbelievable news,” Rojas said. “I couldn’t help but be excited. He told me it was about time to give me a shot. I feel ready. It’s time to get to work.”

BULLPEN UPDATE

With the news that Rojas won the final job on the bench, the Angels bullpen is all that’s left to be decided before the Opening Day roster must be set next week.

It appears five of the spots are locked up with right-handers Raisel Iglesias, Ty Buttrey, Junior Guerra, Mike Mayers and left-hander Alex Claudio.

The other three spots will be from a group including right-handers Aaron Slegers, Jaime Barria and Chris Rodriguez and left-hander Patrick Sandoval.

Slegers seems to be a lock as long as he doesn’t have an issue with the back spasms that caused him to miss a couple weeks worth of Cactus League games. He’s pitched just five innings, without allowing a run. Even if he finishes the spring with relatively few innings but feels healthy, Maddon said that would be enough for him.

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“With a relief pitcher like him, who has experience, I’m OK with something like that,” Maddon said. “If you’re going to make up a major-league team, one of the questions you have to answer as you look at your group is, ‘Do I trust this guy or not? Do I feel like I know what to expect?’ I think he falls into that category.”

The other variable is the Angels still could add someone who is currently not on the roster. On Saturday, they officially signed veteran AJ Ramos to a minor-league deal. It’s unclear how much time Ramos would need to get ready before he could be a candidate for the roster.

The market is also full of free-agent relievers pitchers, most notably right-hander Shane Greene, who pitched for the Braves when Angels GM Perry Minasian was there. There are also plenty of pitchers who have been released by other teams in the past few days, as well as trade possibilities.

Felix Peña also figures to join the Angels bullpen shortly into the season. Peña, who will start the season on the injured list with a hamstring issue, is “making a lot of great progress,” Maddon said.



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