There aren't many big league players that play their "rookie season" at the age of 30. Those that do become instant fan favorites for their tenacity and dedication to the game. Last season, the Washington Nationals broke camp with one such player -- Clint Robinson.
Lo and behold, Robinson went out and had himself a career year, proving useful with the bat and willing to play several positions, though none particularly well. He made his MLB debut in 2012 at age 27 with the Kansas City Royals, getting four plate appearances, and he had 10 plate appearances for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2014. So he didn't make his debut in D.C., but he still qualified as a rookie.
On Monday, Robinson went 2 for 2 with a home run, two runs scored and three RBIs in the Nats 7-4 win over Miami.
Last year, Robinson hit .272/.358/.424 with 10 homers and 34 RBIs in 352 plate appearances, with surprisingly 306 of them coming as a starter. That's the biggest thing that shocked me going through his numbers -- Clint Robinson started 77 games for the Nats last season, mostly at first and in left field.
I'm failing to suppress a wisecrack about "no wonder the Nats didn't make the playoffs," but that would sound like I'm blaming Robinson. I'm not. It's not his fault he's not the player that a healthy (or 30-again) Jayson Werth or Ryan Zimmerman is.
With the health of those aforementioned players almost perpetually in question at this point in their careers, the Nats need to have safeguards in place should the need arise again. GM Mike Rizzo traded Drew Storen to acquire outfielder Ben Revere. Revere is penciled to start in center and lead off; defensively he's more suited for left field.
But his acquisition gives the Nats a solid backup plan should (when) Werth hit the disabled list again. Michael Taylor is the player he's going to be at this point, which is a fine defensive outfielder with pop, speed, and a huge hole in his bat that swings at almost everything. He's a perfect fourth outfielder and between him and Revere, the Nats should be able to weather an injury to Werth.
If Zimmerman goes down for any stretch, Robinson is the only option at first, other than moving Daniel Murphy over. That would be all kinds of bad. And no, I don't count Tyler Moore an option. There's no way -- unless Zimmerman goes on the 60-day D.L. before the season starts -- that Moore will make the team, and he's out of options.
The thing is, the Nats don't really have a legitimate first base prospect in the system. Matt Skole is 26 already and doesn't make enough contact. They'll eventually have to move Drew Ward to first, but his power hasn't translated yet to the pros -- he's hit just 18 home runs in 279 games. But he's just 21, it could click for him.
Can Robinson produce as he did last season? I think asking for anything more is probably wishful thinking, and if he had to start, say, 100 games at first instead of the 40-or-so last season he'd probably get exposed for the career minor leaguer he was. Is. You get my point.
Obviously it's in the Nats best interest for Ryan Zimmerman to stay healthy and produce like he did after he returned from his extended absence with plantar fasciitis but before he strained his oblique.
But as emergency LF-1B and bench let-handed bat, they could do (and have done in the past) worse than Robinson.