The plan, as Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo explained it, was for top outfield prospect Victor Robles to finish out the season at Double-A Harrisburg, following a promotion from High-A Potomac, then play in the Arizona Fall League and one of the Winter Leagues to continue his development.
At least that’s how Rizzo laid out the plan in late July when he talked about the highly-regarded, 20-year-old outfielder with 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies.
“We just moved [Robles] to Double-A just a game or so ago and we’re looking forward to him having a good, solid finish in Double-A,” Rizzo said, “maybe playing some Winter League somewhere and Arizona Fall League, and then in the Dominican Winter League, and then we’ll see where he’s at after that.”
Plans though, right? With a need in the outfield in the majors, with Brian Goodwin having a setback in his recovery from a groin injury, Jayson Werth’s shoulder barking after a HBP on his rehab assignment, and Bryce Harper just taking the first steps towards a return in the last few days, the Nationals made the somewhat surprising decision to call their top prospect (and MLB.com’s No. 4 overall prospect) up to the majors.
Other team execs count calendar days and Mike Rizzo is all "F service time, get me Robles!"— keithlaw (@keithlaw) September 7, 2017
“The original plan was for me to head to instructional league and prepare for ... the Arizona Fall League,” Robles said through a translator, as quoted by MASN’s Byron Kerr Thursday afternoon.
“I was on my way to do that. Yesterday morning, I got the phone call. I am very blessed about the opportunity. It was a great feeling [to know] that I was getting called up to the big leagues.”
Robles, who finished the minor league season with a combined .300/.382/.493 line, 37 doubles, eight triples, 10 home runs, and 27 stolen bases over 114 games and 496 plate appearances, was as surprised as anyone when he got the call.
“[Assistant GM and VP Player Personnel] Doug Harris was the one that told me,” Robles told reporters once he arrived in the nation’s capital, “and I just couldn’t get any words out of my mouth, it was just hard to talk at all.”
“This is definitely what I worked for,” Robles added, “and I definitely was surprised to get called up so young at 20 years old, but I think I have the ability to help the team out and hopefully I’ll help them out any way I can with my ability.”
Dusty Baker said that there probably won’t be many opportunities for the toolsy young outfielder, who earned grades of (60, Batting), (70, Speed), (60, Defense) and (60, Arm Strength) on the scouts’ 20-to-80 scale from Baseball America before this season, but if he needed Robles, he’d use him.
“I heard he’s a heck of a player,” Baker said.
“I also heard there are some fundamental things that he needs to learn, like some baserunning, throwing to the right base, different things, but that’s what we’re here for, to teach them, and hopefully he’s a quick learner, which I’ve heard he is.”
Down the stretch and heading into the postseason on a contending team, however, is not really the ideal time for learning on the job in the majors.
“You’ve got to kind of earn your stripes. You’re here to learn more than you are here to play,” Baker explained.
“We’re not in a tryout,” Baker said.
“It’s a reward when you get called up, and as a September call-up, I’m calling upon you when I need you, whether it’s pinch run, pinch hit. I’ll try to get them a start or two.”
It was in a pinch hit appearance that Robles made his major league debut against the Philadelphia Phillies.
He sent a ball to right field, flying out in his first plate appearance, but he got a nice ovation from the crowd in Nationals Park.
“We got Robles his first at bat,” Baker said after the game, “so we’re getting a lot of guys — their feet wet under the fire of a pennant chase, and that’s always good, to get those initial nerves out of the young players, so it sort of reminds me when I first got my first at bats and stuff, and you love to see young guys prosper like that.”