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What should we make of Clint Robinson's fast start for the Washington Nationals?

Clint Robinson was one of the more pleasant surprises of Spring Training for the Nationals, batting .320 with five doubles, a triple, and two home runs. As the Nats return from their road trip, Robinson is second on the team with a .316 batting average. What does his fast start mean?

Clint Robinson has gotten off to a nice start in 2015, prompting some to say he should be seeing more playing time. With the lineup getting healthier, he figures to see less chances... not more.
Clint Robinson has gotten off to a nice start in 2015, prompting some to say he should be seeing more playing time. With the lineup getting healthier, he figures to see less chances... not more.
Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

It doesn't mean all that much.

I could end the article right here, but that wouldn't make for a very entertaining read, would it?  Robinson's off to a nice start, but it doesn't seem like it would be a real bright idea to put too much emphasis on his nineteen plate appearances.  In the introduction, I mentioned that Robinson is second on the team with that .316 batting average.... Danny Espinosa leads the team with a .333 average.  Do we expect that to last?

I'm not saying that Clint Robinson isn't, or can't be, a good hitter.  There's actually a fair amount of evidence that he has been a good hitter for quite some time in the minor leagues.  Minor League Ball's John Sickels did a prospect retrospective on Robinson earlier this week in which he detailed Robinson's prowess over the years.  Robinson has a .302/.381/.510 career line with 238 doubles and 141 homers in eight minor league seasons.  As Sickels points out, he's pretty much torn the cover off the ball at every stop outside of Buffalo in 2013.

He's been consistently strong.  That triple slash line isn't aided by any ridiculous outlier season... His best season was probably in 2010 when he hit .335/.410/.625 with 29 homers in the hitter friendly (AA) Texas League, but even that year wasn't that far out of line with the rest of his career.  He hasn't struggled to maintain early success as he's ascended to the high minors, batting .311/.393/.557 in two years at AA and .303/.392/.494 in four years at AAA, so it's not like his performance in the low minors inflates his overall line.  There's not much question that Robinson can hit, so why hasn't he stuck before now?

When looking at a 30 year old who has been in the minors for eight seasons and has yet to stick in the majors, one can often go into the search looking for why he hasn't stuck rather than looking at what he's done well.  That could be a mistake with Robinson.  He's performed well enough in the high minors over the past few seasons so that he probably would have had a chance to crack the 25 man roster in a lot of organizations.  He's just had the misfortune to be in organizations where the team already had strong established hitters at every position that he could (theoretically) play.

He spent most of his career as a first baseman in the Royals system.  While the Royals watched Billy Butler walk as a free agent this past offseason, they've had both Butler and Eric Hosmer manning first base (and the DH spot) in the major leagues for the past few years.  Since Robinson had played just ten games in a corner outfield spot in the minors prior to this year, moving him to a corner outfield spot didn't really seem realistic.  He was blocked.

The move to Toronto didn't really help him much either.  He had his poorest season ever in the minors when he was in the Blue Jays' system, and there wasn't really much of an opening at the big league level (Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, Adam Lind) even if he had produced in AAA.  He then went to the Dodgers, where Adrian Gonzalez, Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, and Carl Crawford were all there to block him despite his strong showing in Albuquerque.

Of course, we have to use that same context to look at his opportunity with the Nats.  I know that late last week, many in the fanbase were starting to bang the Clint Robinson drum and saying that the Nats need to get him in the lineup on a more regular basis.  Jayson Werth returned Monday.  Denard Span has already started his rehab assignment in Hagerstown.  Is Robinson going to get more regular playing time at the expense of Werth?  Harper?  Zimmerman?  Of course not.

Finding the next Michael Morse

I do recall the fanbase's love affair with Mike Morse.  I think that some in the fanbase seem to be hoping that Robinson can be the next Morse... a late-blooming minor league journeyman who suddenly gets a chance, becoming both a stud and a fan favorite.  Robinson and Morse are similar in that they're defensively limited to first base or a corner outfield spot (playing neither particularly well defensively).  That's about where the similarities of 2010-11 Morse and 2015 Robinson end, though.

Morse broke into the Nats lineup as a replacement for Roger Bernadina and Justin Maxwell.  He got to solidify his spot in the lineup the next season when Adam LaRoche missed almost the entire season.  Let's hope that Robinson doesn't have that same opportunity.  Harper, Werth, and Zimmerman aren't replacement level types like The Shark or J-Max, so as long as they're healthy, Robinson isn't really going to have a chance to get many starts.

Let's let Clint be Clint.  He's a bench bat who will come up to bat for a pitcher (or against a tough righty) throughout the year.  His defensive limitations aren't going to leave him with much of an opportunity to start when the lineup is (knock on wood) healthy and he hasn't proven enough at the major league level so that he should be forcing Harper, Werth, or Zimmerman to the bench very often.

Robinson has shown that he has enough of a bat in the high minors so that he could end up being a nice left-handed bat off the bench.  He still has a lot to prove at the big league level (sorry... nineteen plate appearances haven't sold me yet) to show that he can handle that role in the long run, but he's off to a good start.  The Nats' bench the past few years has set the bar kind of low, though.  He could probably not get a hit the rest of the season and still be better than Scott Hairston was last year.  Performing better than Greg Dobbs, Xavier Nady, Chad Tracy, or Matt Stairs have in recent years isn't exactly asking for the world.

Just like the rest of you, I'm pulling for Clint Robinson to show he belongs.  I'm pleasantly surprised with his performance so far.  I'm not ready to make a case for why he belongs in Cooperstown just yet.  As long as he's (much) better than Hairston, Dobbs, Nady, Tracy, or Stairs, I'll happily say that he belongs on the roster as a bat off the bench.  I don't think he's going to be much more, though.