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Breaking down the Pache vs Rojas debate

With Spring Training wrapping up down in Clearwater and Opening Day a few days away, there is one position battle that is still not clear. The question of who should start in CF on Opening Day has been debated all spring long and even with Opening Day this Thursday, the answer is still unclear.

The question is simple, who should start in CF on Opening Day, Johan Rojas or Christian Pache? With the announcement of Jake Cave being traded to the Rockies, this has opened the door for both Rojas and Pache to at least make the Opening Day roster, but the question still stands, who should start? We will be discussing who should get the nod on Opening Day and a potential wildcard option for the Phillies.

Looking long-term for the Phillies, Johan Rojas is going to be the future CF for the Phillies. Defensively he can play at a gold glove level of play already. His hitting is not quite ready for the big leagues. Both Rob Thomson and Dave Dombrowski have been open about this and both have said Rojas has not guaranteed his spot in the lineup because of his hitting.

During the regular season Rojas appeared at the plate 149 times getting 45 hits, 23 RBI's, and striking out 42 times. During the playoffs he had 43 plate appearances and only got 4 hits and 15 strikeouts. It was evident during the entire postseason that Rojas was an easy out in the lineup and in a crucial bases loaded moment in Game 7 of the NLCS, Rojas struck out to end the inning.

Defensively Rojas is as good as any center fielder in the game. His big time catch in the 7th inning robbing Ronald Acuna Jr. of a bases loaded hit more than likely saved the game for the Phillies in game 4 of the NLDS. Thomson was vocal last postseason that Rojas was getting the start at CF for his defense rather than his bat.

So far in spring training Rojas has struggled at the plate. In 49 appearances he has 8 hits, 8 strikeouts with only 5 RBI's. Rojas is the future CF for the Phillies. What he can bring to the field is something that they have not had in quite some time. However, with his hitting he is a huge liability.

Christian Pache was acquired right before Opening Day in 2023. When he was acquired, it was said he was being brought in as a defensive replacement. However, after working with Kevin Long, he was on pace to have a career year hitting. However, injuries plagued his season, and he was on and off the IL all season. Now that he is fully healthy, he seems to be playing at the same level prior to his injuries.

Even though Rojas is the future CF, the debate on who should start in CF is still very popular. It would be easy to say to start Rojas and send Pache to AAA, but with Christian Pache being out of minor league options, the decision has been very important.

Before we figure out who should start on Opening Day, the Phillies have added a wrench into everyone's opinions. The Phillies announced that they are trading Jake Cave to the Rockies for cash considerations Sunday morning. Cave who is a lefty was a favorite to make the roster for Opening Day, but now this opens a spot. The Phillies now have room for both Rojas and Pache to both make the Opening Day roster. However, to make things more difficult, if both make the roster and assuming the rest of the bench is Edmundo Sosa, Garrett Stubbs, and Whitt Merrifield, that will give the team no lefties off the bench.

Let me introduce to you option 3. Kody Clemens makes the Opening Day roster. This seems to be a longshot, but he would bring a lefty off the bench and can play multiple positions. He is hitting .342 with 10 RBIs, and 3 home runs this spring. Jake Cave was supposed to be the back-up first baseman to Bryce Harper this season. With Cave off to the Rockies, there is no back-up first baseman on the roster other than Alec Bohm. Clemens not only has played the position at the big-league level, but he has also played very well.

Here are my thoughts on each player and where they should be on Opening Day.

Christian Pache should make the Opening Day roster with Kody Clemens, while Johan Rojas starts in AAA. To me this is the safest option for the team. With Pache being out of minor league options, there is less risk with this move. Having Clemens make the Opening Day roster allows the team to have a left-handed hitter off the bench and a player who has come up clutch both offensively and defensively last season.

Rojas is going to be the future CF for the Phillies. However, right now this hitting is a liability for the Phillies. We have already been caught with him at the plate in a crucial situation. When you compare Pache and Rojas fielding, even though Rojas is the superior defender, the drop-off is not that big. Even though Pache is a not a silver slugger hitter, there is more confidence with him at the plate then Rojas.

This is the safest option for the Phillies. Rojas needs consistent AB's and that is why I do not think it would be right for him to start the season on the MLB bench. Allowing Rojas to get consistent AB's and develop in games that do not matter for the Phillies would be best.

To throw more option for fans to discuss. Even though I think Rojas starts in AAA and Pache in the MLB, I don't think Pache is your Opening Day centerfielder. I think Brandon Marsh starts in CF and Whitt Merrifield starts in LF. The Phillies are confident in Marsh to hit lefties has already been a finalist for a Gold Glove in the AL and Whitt has proven to be a consistent bat. He is not an elite fielder, but he does a bring a lot to the team. This would keep Pache as a bench piece and when Rojas is truly ready to take over in CF, this would make the move easy.

The Phillies have World Series aspirations and even though player development is important, hoisting the World Series trophy is more important. Starting Rojas in AAA allows time for his development but does not put the Phillies in a tough spot in the lineup. If you are still torn on this subject the question, I ask is simple. In Game 7 of the NLCS when Rojas was at the plate with the bases loaded with 2 outs, would you have preferred Pache over Rojas? If you said yes, then you want the same thing on Opening Day. Rojas' bat has not improved to the point where I have more confidence in him over Pache.


-Adam Mack (@adammackMLB)


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