Shared from the 2/19/2019 Houston Chronicle eEdition


Rojas finds four gloves are better than one

Photos by Yi-Chin Lee / Staff photographer

Infielder Josh Rojas, who hopes his ability to play several positions will eventually land him a spot on the Astros’ roster, takes his cuts during batting practice Monday at West Palm Beach, Fla.


Even after practice, Astros second baseman Jose Altuve still has work to do as he accommodates fans seeking an autograph.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Around the corner from Aledmys Diaz’s locker is a flexible four-glove farmhand.

Diaz was the Astros’ external solution to immediately fill Marwin Gonzalez’s versatility void. Josh Rojas represents an internal aspirant with considerable upside, the sort of adaptable player manager A.J. Hinch craves when constructing his 25-man roster.

Rojas, 24, is a 26th-round draft pick participating in his first major league spring training. He spent his first three seasons at the University of Hawaii manning second base. The Astros drafted him as a third baseman after he switched there as asenior.

“One of the big things I want people to know that I bring to the table,” Rojas said Monday, “is that I can fill in at any spot and be just as good as the guy in front of me.”

Entering the Astros organization commands such an attitude. Players under team control for the foreseeable future dominate the infield — particularly Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa on the left side. Rojas’ natural position — second base — is occupied by former American League MVP Jose Altuve.

Across 106 games at Class AA Corpus Christi last year, Rojas started at least 10 games at five different positions. Nine other starts came at shortstop — the most recent addition to Rojas’ rotation around the diamond.

“This should tell you something,” pitcher J.B. Bukauskas said. “When I got (to Corpus Christi in September), I thought he’d been playing shortstop the entire year, and apparently he hadn’t been.”

Bukauskas, Corbin Martin and Brandon Bielak are three of the four 2017 draftees in major league camp. Rojas is the other — the sole position player from that class extended a non-roster invitation.

“Surprise is the right word, but I don’t think it’s surprise in the fact that I don’t think I should have gotten an invite,” said Rojas, who brought three gloves to West Palm Beach and is awaiting a fourth — his third-base glove — to arrive. “It was a surprise that it is my third year — it’s kind of soon — but I do feel I’ve done well enough to get an invite. Not to say I don’t think I deserved it.”

Rojas spent his offseason getting more acclimated to his two most unfamiliar positions — shortstop and center field. Center field is the only position, aside from pitcher or catcher, where Rojas has not started a minor league game.

The Astros’ ample use of video is paramount to Rojas’ development, he said. Reviewing his first step and pre-play positioning is easier to comprehend — especially in an organization that so values deploying shifts.

Rojas hit .263 in 556 minor league plate appearances last year, walking 68 times and striking out 89. He also stole 38 bases, getting caught 14 times.

“If I want my bat in the lineup, the best way to do that is to play multiple positions,” Rojas said.

Mission accomplished.

“I haven’t seen him make a mistake at any of the positions,” said Forrest Whitley, the organization’s top pitching prospect who threw for Class AA Corpus Christi last year. “It seems like he’s a natural at every position. He, to me, is one of the more talented guys that I’ve seen.”

Hitting off tee helps Reddick fix flaws

Other players might prefer soft toss or soft-flip batting practice to fix whatever ails their offense during the offseason, but Josh Reddick had to hit off a tee.

“Everybody talks about not liking to hit on a tee,” the Astros outfielder said. “Nobody does, but it’s the best tool I could have.”

To remedy a persistent problem, Reddick placed a baseball atop atee on the outer third of home plate. Making sure his hips did not fly open — Red-dick’s common flaw when his offense slumps — was crucial. When the flaw occurs, Reddick is unable to use his hands to drive the baseball.

“I may throw a weight on the bat — not a big weight but maybe an eight-to-10-ounce little sliding weight to keep my hands strong on that side of the plate and keep the ball driving through,” Reddick said.

Last year, during the worst offensive season of his brief Astros career, Reddick focused too much on the inner third of the plate. His production against righthanded pitching was anemic — just a .669 OPS in 343 plate appearances.

“As he tried to cover the inside part of the plate, he got a little too big or too strong of a swing and started pulling off the ball quite a bit,” manager A. J. Hinch said. “I saw teams shift him even more extreme than they did the previous year because there was no threat to him hitting the ball the other way.”

A year after he hit .314 with 51 extra-base hits, Reddick struggled to a .318 on-base percentage and .718 OPS. During the season, the 31-year-old lamented his approach from the bottom of the order.

“You could obviously tell I was really focused on the inner third of the plate and kind of got away from that approach from (2017),” Reddick said. “Just trying to get back to that and provide a little bit more pop. But the pop isn’t necessarily a big thing for me when there are guys on base. Just covering the other half of the plate.”

Chandler Rome

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