Washington Nationals’ prospect Victor Robles was four games into his 2018 campaign when he landed awkwardly on his left arm trying to make a tough play in the outfield and suffered a hyperextended elbow which kept him out of action from April 9th to July 7th.
Robles, 21, struggled to get up to speed once he returned, but ended up putting up a solid .276/.371/.370 line, 10 doubles, two home runs, 26 walks, and 32 Ks in 52 games and 226 plate appearances in the Gulf Coast, New York/Penn, and International Leagues, coming off a .300/.382/.493 season in 2017, which saw him hit 37 doubles and 10 HRs with 37 walks and 84 strikeouts in 114 games and 496 PAs between High and Double-A in the Nationals’ system.
He was just 3 for 20 in his first nine games in the majors this past September, when he was called up after the minor league season came to an end, but hit his first major league HR in his first multi-hit game on September 17th in Miami, and talked afterwards about making an adjustment at the plate that helped him feel more comfortable.
“I spoke with both [manager] Davey Martinez and Kevin Long, our hitting coach,” Robles told reporters, as quoted by MASN’s Byron Kerr, after that game.
“They’ve been watching me hit all the way from A-ball up and then they made me make a small adjustment to my front leg, open up. They thought I was closed up a little bit and I made the adjustment.
“It gave me the confidence that ... they were trying to help me out and I just felt very comfortable out there today.”
“We knew he had some pop,” Martinez said after Robles’s first major league home run went out 427 feet to left field in Marlins Park.
“Now, like I tell him, all you’ve got to do is stay consistent. I tell him all the time, I said, ‘Hey, stay up the middle of the field just like we do with [Juan] Soto,’ those things will happen.”
“He played really well,” the first-year skipper added.
“He’s exciting, he’s going to be exciting, he’s going to be really good. I like the way that he’s playing, I really do. He’s doing well.”
Over the 11 games that followed, Robles went 12 for 35 (.343/.395/.657) with three doubles, two home runs, two walks, and nine Ks in 39 PAs, finishing up his second run in the majors on a positive note and impressing his manager along the way.
“I like what I see,” Martinez said in late September. “He’s full of energy, he can spark our team. There’s still a lot for him to learn, obviously, but I mean he’s going to learn and he wants to learn and that’s a good thing, but I really love what I see.
“Three home runs in a short period of time, that’s pretty impressive. What I like the most is the fact that he’s not afraid to use the other side of the field, which is kind of nice.”
Robles made the adjustments he and the Nationals’ hitting coach suggested, Martinez said, and enjoyed success down the stretch.
“He has made adjustments up here,” Martinez explained.
“Like I said, the biggest thing was for him to work at bats, and stay in at bats, not chase, and he’s done a good job on that, putting the ball in play.”
Robles said that once he got more at bats he started to feel more comfortable in the Nats’ lineup.
“The more you play the more comfortable you get with doing what you know what to do, so I feel good about that,” he said through an interpreter.
The adjustments that were suggested and he applied, Robles said, made a difference.
“It’s helped me a lot. I feel more relaxed and comfortable at home plate, I stay more patient, and I see the pitches a lot earlier, which helps me feel more comfortable out there.”
Had he not been injured early in the season, Robles might have gotten the chance that Soto did in May, when the 19-year-old was called up to the big leagues, but he made the most of his late opportunity to remind everyone that he started the season as the organization’s top outfield prospect.
“We think that he was ready to make that leap this year,” GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies shortly after Robles was called up in early September.
“But he hyperextended his left elbow early on, like I think in Game 4 of the minor league season, which really sidetracked him a little bit in his progression this year, but came back after a four-month rehab and played about 57 games or so in Triple-A and he’s just starting now to get his sea legs and his timing and that type of thing and we’re looking for big things from him and he’s obviously a big part of our future. He’s one of the top prospects in all of baseball, if not the top prospect, and you put him side by side with Soto and you’ve got yourself a dynamic duo of 20-somethings that can really play.”
“He’s a guy that plays really, really fast, and has speed to burn and has learned to hit as his minor league career has progressed,” Rizzo told the Junkies.
Is Robles ready to jump right in if the Nats don’t re-sign Bryce Harper and there’s a need in the big league outfield come Opening Day 2019?
“He is a consummate center fielder,” Rizzo said. “Great range, great angles, great defense and he can really play it.”
Martinez was asked late this season what the next steps are in Robles’s development.
“For me it’s just — his defense, get better on his routes,” the former major league outfielder said.
“Continue to work good at bats and put the ball in play with two strikes and use the whole field,” Martinez added.
“I mean that’s what he needs to do and what I’ve seen so far and what I’ve known of him, he’s gotten to be really good, he really is.”