Washington Nationals’ hitting coach Kevin Long talked at length when he met with reporters at Winterfest in early December about what he saw from outfielder Victor Robles in the final month of the 2018 campaign, once the 21-year-old came up to the majors. Robles suffered a hyperextension of his left elbow four games in at Triple-A Syracuse last April, but worked his way back to play another 21 games for the Nationals, giving him 34 games total going into a 2019 campaign in which he’s expected to be the Opening Day center fielder.
Long said he let the outfielder settle in once he was in D.C. again, then decided to work on a few things he noticed and couldn’t ignore.
“I kind of let Victor be Victor for a minute or two, then the coach in me kind of takes over,” Long explained, “... and what I saw was a couple adjustments that he needed to make, and he made them on the fly. And he was able to take it into the game, and I was like, ‘Woah, that’s special.’ So that excites me. I know his Winter ball was very, very good, and he was excited about that, and he said he was just doing some of the things that we had worked on throughout the year. I think he hit — I don’t know how many home runs in Triple-A, but it was pretty close to the same amount in the big leagues, and some of the adjustments we made, his power was going to come back. So I’m excited to get more time with him, to spend more time with him and to tap into his overall potential.”
In 52 games and 226 PAs in the minors in 2018, Robles posted a combined .276/.371/.370 line with 10 doubles and two home runs, and he hit three doubles and three homers in 21 games and 66 plate appearances in September, going 17 for 59 (.288/.348/.525) to finish out the season.
Robles then went to the Dominican Winter League, where he played for Aguilas Cibaenas, posting a .265/.345/.316 line with two doubles and a home run in 25 games and 110 plate appearances.
He said this winter that he recognized there was room for improvement as his prepares for the 2019 campaign.
“This is a game where you’re really learning stuff daily,” Robles said.
“You’re always going to be learning, every single day you take something away. For me, in general, I’m always just going to work on everything. I feel really confident in my skills, but that doesn’t mean I’m not always going to push for a little bit extra, a little bit more.”
Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez talked this winter about what made him confident that Robles was ready to take over as an everyday member of the Nats’ outfield in 2019 in spite of his relative lack of experience at the big league level.
“When I saw him in Spring Training last year I thought maybe he needed a little bit more time,” Martinez said.
“He got hurt obviously, but when he came back and I saw him play in September, I really feel like he’s ready to play. He really is. He just needs repetition to get out and play. I don’t want him to do anything different. We talked about that already, I want him to go out and play baseball and have fun.”
In an MLB Network Radio interview this week, Long talked again about the adjustments he and Robles made late last season that will hopefully help the outfielder going forward.
“When he came up,” Long told hosts Jim Duquette and Mike Ferrin, “... he came up towards the end of the year, he was really like crossing over and striding to — almost on — the plate, he was cutting off his power stroke, cutting off his lower half, and I was like, ‘Am I going to just watch this all September? Or are we going to try to make some kind of adjustments?’ So we got in the cage, I explained some things to him — and I’ll tell you what, half of being a good hitting coach is having players that kind of can make adjustments.
“He showed me the ability to do that, and not only did he show me the that, but he took it out into the hardest setting, which is the game, and I was impressed. He said he’d continue to work on that all offseason. He went into Winter Ball, had a successful Winter Ball, so I like the kid, I like his ability to make adjustments, and then the athletic ability and all those intangibles are off the charts.”
Long was also asked about the frequent comparisons that have been made between Robles and Andrew McCutchen, especially when the Nationals were rumored to be interested in acquiring the former Pittsburgh Pirates’ outfielder a few winters back. Does Long think that comp makes sense?
“You look at the athlete, the physical size, you don’t look at him and you don’t go, ‘Wow, this guy’s built like Juan Soto or Robinson Cano, or A-Rod, or one of those guys,’” Long said.
“[Robles is] smaller in stature, but we’ve seen in this game that guys like him, they’ve been successful. [Jose] Altuve. Even [Dustin] Pedroia. You look at McCutchen, and he’s more in that physical build than he is the other, so yeah I can see that comparison. And there’s the fast-twitch, explosive movement that you see when he hits and even when he runs and tracks down balls, he’s an exciting player.”