Of all the things the Dodgers have come to appreciate about Miguel Rojas this spring, two of the biggest have to do with his feet.
There’s Rojas’ nimble footwork in the infield, a natural agility that has made the 34-year-old one of the best defensive shortstops in the major leagues.
Then there’s his obsession with custom sneakers and cleats, a vibrant collection of colorful shoes that epitomize the confident swagger he plays with.
“His shoe game,” manager Dave Roberts jokingly said this week, “is pretty tight.”
In the wake of Gavin Lux’s knee injury that came at the end of the season, the Dodgers will need all of Rojas’ play to be similarly noticeable in 2023.
Originally acquired in a January trade from the Miami Marlins to serve as a part-time utility player on the Dodgers’ bench this season, Rojas was instead thrust into an unlikely starting role this week.
With Lux out this year with a torn anterior cruciate ligament and no other natural shortstops on the Dodgers’ major league roster, Rojas is lined up to play 75-80% of the team’s games, barring one, according to Roberts. new impact acquisition by the front office for the regular season.
That proposition could put some fans off, given Rojas’ deficiencies at the record — he’s only produced above league average twice in nine seasons — and his increasing age.
Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman hasn’t closed the door on the Dodgers making an impact addition that could change roster roles again before spring’s end, though he acknowledged Friday morning that such a move would likely be more likely around the trade deadline mid-season.
So for now, Rojas is gearing up like he will be a starter in the Dodgers opening day lineup.
And during multiple scrums with reporters this week, he has been vocal about wanting to seize the opportunity and embrace an unforeseen challenge.
“I’m not going to take (it) for granted,” he said. “I know what I have to do to be part of a winning team.”
This will be no unknown responsibility for the 10-year veteran.
“It’s how I express my personality. When I feel good and look good, I go out with a lot of confidence.”
— Dodgers shortstop Miguel Rojas on his custom cleats
After debuting with the Dodgers in 2014 and then being traded to the Marlins in the offseason along with Dee Gordon and Dan Haren, Rojas became Miami’s leading shortstop for the past five years.
During that time, Rojas posted the third-best fielding percentage (.983) among qualified Major Leaguers at the position. He also ranked fifth in that group in defensive points saved with 23, including a National League-best 15 last season alone.
“Every time we played against the Marlins, at home and there, I always watched what he did,” said Dodgers third base coach and infield guru Dino Ebel. “Even between turns, how he presents himself, he’s a real pro.”
However, the unexpected developments of the past week have forced Rojas to adjust his spring routine.
On Thursday, the Venezuelan announced his withdrawal from the World Baseball Classic, a decision he made after a meeting in Roberts’ office with manager, Friedman and general manager Brandon Gomes.
“I need to be ready for the season,” said Rojas, who could still play in the WBC, but only in the unlikely event that other changes to Venezuela’s roster would allow him to play a more prominent role in the team .
“I feel really, really bad that I’m not going to represent Venezuela because it’s something I really wanted to do,” he added. “But I don’t know if I’m going to get two at bats or 20 at bats or 15 at bats (in the WBC). And right now, the most important thing for me is to continue to bond (with the Dodgers) and put the organization at ease.”
To that end, the Dodgers speed up their work with Rojas’ swing.
While the shortstop is a .260 career hitter who annually records some of the lowest strikeout percentages in MLB, he also has only one season of at least 10 home runs and is coming off arguably his worst offensive campaign in 2022, when he had a good achieved result. -below average 0.605 on-base-plus-slugging percentage while hampered by right hand and wrist injuries.
The Dodgers are hoping that Rojas can keep his bat-to-ball skills while adding more pop to the plate. They have focused on improving the mechanics of his lower half. They’ve encouraged him to be more aggressive when he gets into a batter’s count.
“It won’t be his job to carry us offensively,” said Roberts. “But we expect that professional at bat. And I think with the information we have and the game prep, I still believe there’s a lot more than there has been.
Rojas will also have to help herd a newly designed Dodgers infield.
The importance of the shortstop role was already amplified for teams this year, thanks to new MLB rules prohibiting defensive shifts. And it could be especially crucial for the Dodgers early in the season as they brace for growing pains from rookie Miguel Vargas at second base.
“Huge,” said Roberts when asked how much Rojas could help his new doubles partner. “Having Rojas by his side will help Vargas’ intensity, sense of urgency and how to handle things. It goes up much faster.”
Rojas has previously led a playoff push as an everyday player.
It won’t be his job to carry us offensively. But we expect that professional at bat.”
— Dodgers manager Dave Roberts on Miguel Rojas
In the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, he posted career highs in batting average (.304), slugging percentage (.496), and OPS (.888) to help the Marlins squeak in an expanded postseason field and the Chicago Cubs in a wild battle to beat card round upset.
“He was our captain,” said current Dodgers reliever and then-Marlins rookie Alex Vesia. “At least that’s how I saw him.”
That season was also the year where Rojas cemented another of his defining characteristics, beginning a collection of custom boots that now rival those of other players in the major leagues.
Born out of Rojas’ love of NBA style and culture, that passion began in earnest with a well-timed view of a well-turned doubles play.
The snap, taken during the second game of the 2020 season, shows Rojas leaping over Bryce Harper at second base with his legs kicked out to either side. sun in just the right light.
“They got a lot of attention from that play,” Rojas said, “and the pictures.”
Rojas’ shoe obsession has only grown since then. He has a line of specially painted shoes through a collaboration with Stadium Custom Kicks, nicknamed Miggy’s Locker. He has several variations of Jordan and Nike-branded cleats—essentially store-bought basketball shoes with spikes on the bottom—that have become the awe of the Dodgers camp this spring.
“It’s how I express my personality,” Rojas said. “If I feel good and look good, I go out with a lot of confidence. It’s not going to dictate what I’m going to be as a player. But it definitely makes me feel better.”
“He’s got the swag, he’s got the looks,” said the reliever. “But he also has the talent and everything else. He’s the whole package.”
That’s definitely what the Dodgers need from him right now.
A defensive stalwart at shortstop. An experienced leader for young new players on the team. A stopgap capable of maintaining stability in the aftermath of this season’s first major injury.
“The reason we traded for a guy like Miguel was to protect against potential volatility,” Roberts said. “To have a man who plays a premium position, and we trust first and foremost as a defender, that’s huge.”