Slick-Fielding Rojas Looks to Improve His Bat

Carlos Rojas is regarded as one of the top defenders in the Cubs organization, but if the slick-fielding shortstop is going to make it to Chicago, he's going to have to swing a bat, too. Rojas, who has split time this season between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa, approaches each at-bat in the minors thinking about only one thing.

It is hitting the gaps and not pulling the ball.

"I'm trying to go to the opposite field," says Rojas. "I'm trying to hit the ball on the barrel every time I can. It's the only way I can play. I don't hit for power like Jake Fox."

Fox, a recent call-up to Chicago, put on a power display for Tennessee this summer with 18 home runs and 60 RBIs in 91 games. During a series of roster shifts throughout the organization last week, Rojas returned to Iowa.

Tennessee manager Pat Listach used a platoon of Rojas and Joe Simokaitis at shortstop. Rojas hit .198 for the Smokies with two doubles in 38 games. Simokaitis is hitting .261 with nine doubles and three homers in 75 games.

"I tried to go with the hot hand for the most part," Listach explained. "Rojas is supposed to be one of our better defenders in the organization so I tried to play him when guys like (Paul) Schappert pitched; guys who hit a lot of ground balls in the hole, a lot of pull hitters.

"I just mixed them up, making sure they get some at-bats. I could play Rojas all over the place. I could always double-switch late in the game because they are both solid defenders," Listach said.

The 23-year-old Rojas, who says he is the most comfortable at shortstop, entered the lineup at third base on Saturday for the Iowa Cubs. He is hitting .256 for Iowa with four doubles in 29 games.

It used to be fairly standard for a shortstop to be an excellent fielder with a mediocre bat. Then Alex Rodriguez came along and redefined the position with his size and ability to hit for high average and power.

"A-Rod messed it up for everybody," Listach said with a smile. "You've got to swing the bat. Everybody is looking for offense. You've got a guy that can hit 20 to 25 home runs, (so) you might go with the guy – (even) if he's going to make five more errors than the other guy – you're going to get more production from offensively."

Surprisingly, Rojas has 15 errors on the season – 10 in Tennessee and five in Iowa. But he also gets to balls that would elude most middle infielders and can save runs with his glove. His miscues at Tennessee were mostly throwing errors or simple gaffes, such as a ball between the legs.

Rojas' chances to make it to the big leagues will depend on the development of his bat. Baseball America once rated him the best defender in the Cubs organization, so his fielding ability is not in question.

"I (was) surprised, but I'm happy," Rojas said of the recognition. "I try to make a lot of saves with my glove. I make mistakes with my glove. I'm trying to fix that. I'm working hard to be better."

Listach said Rojas could be counted on to field his position day in and day out. His errors were not of any great concern because of the number of plays he does make.

"For the most part, he makes the routine play," Listach said. "That's what you are looking for from a shortstop, from a middle infielder. He can play anywhere on the infield. He's got good enough hands to play anywhere.

"In this organization now, we're trying to find guys who can hit and play some defense. (Mike) Fontenot's been a solid defender and (Ryan) Theriot's been a solid defender, but their bats are getting them to the big leagues now," Listach added. "(Rojas is) going to have to improve. He's trying to make some adjustments and he's got to get stronger. He makes the routine play like I said, but we've got to get some offense from him. We've got to get some production – more than just his glove."

Rojas spent considerable time in the batting cage and while in Tennessee, he worked with hitting coach Barbaro Garbey.

"I come to play on defense," Rojas said. "My hitting is OK. I'm trying to fix it."

Rojas was signed by the Cubs in 2001 when he was just 17 years old. He has been playing baseball since he was a child and remembers his first practice in his native Nueva Esparata, Venezuela, at the age of 4.

He joined the Arizona Rookie League's Mesa Cubs in 2003. Rojas does not feel like his fielding talent is natural. He said he had to learn to play the infield positions.

"I remember the first year I signed, they taught me almost everything I know," Rojas said. "I don't feel like it's natural. I feel like I have to practice a lot to be good, to get better."

Listach lauded the quiet young prospect's work habits while he was with his team.

"He's a pretty quiet guy," Listach said. "He's kind of shy. He doesn't say a whole lot. I know he understands English pretty good. We ask him to do something, and he does it. He's a hard worker. He's always in the cage, always takes his ground balls. He comes to play every day.

"We've just got to get more offensively from him than what we've been getting in the last couple of years," Listach added.

Rojas made use of his time with Listach, who was an outstanding infielder for the Milwaukee Brewers. The Brewers drafted Listach in 1988 out of Arizona State, and he was the American League Rookie of the Year after hitting .290 with 54 stolen bases in 1992.

Listach played in 503 big league games over six years – five with the Brewers and one with the Houston Astros.

"He understands a lot of what we're trying to do, and he was a big league player," Rojas said.

Listach, a middle infielder, hit .251 for his career. Those numbers were sufficient last decade, and in some scenarios Rojas could make it to the big leagues with similar production.

"You've got to weigh your options and see what type of team you have and what you need," Listach said. "If you've got some big bangers around him, maybe you don't need that big bat from the middle (infield spot)."

But Rojas doesn't want to leave his chances of getting to the majors to those kinds of chances.

"I need to be more consistent in my hitting and hit for a better average," Rojas said. "I'm working hard."

What Rojas needs for the rest of the summer are at-bats to try to make adjustments at the plate. But with infielders moving around among Daytona, Tennessee and Des Moines, Rojas isn't always in the lineup.

"It's hard, but every day we're fielding, hitting," Rojas said. "I need to be ready to pinch hit and be ready to play every day."

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