Considering he was ranked above Juan Soto on most prospect lists before the 2018 season, it’s reasonable to have high expectations for what Victor Robles will be able to do should he earn the Opening Day job in center field with the Washington Nationals. It might have been Robles called up last May had he not injured his left elbow on a diving play in the outfield in the fourth game of the season at Triple-A Syracuse.
Robles, 21, is also a year older than Soto, who put together one of the best seasons in MLB history by a teenager last summer.
Davey Martinez, who oversaw Soto’s rookie campaign in his first year as the manager in the nation’s capital, was asked early this Spring if Soto’s success affects expectations for Robles in the upcoming season.
“Honestly, I don’t think there’s an impact at all,” the second-year skipper said. “I think Robles and Soto are two different players. I really believe that. And I talked to Robles already about just getting on base, taking his walks, bunting, whatever you can do to get on base, but I said — the biggest thing for me is playing good defense and running the bases hard. I said the other stuff is going to come, I mean, you’ve hit everywhere you’ve been so that stuff is going to come, but the two constants for me [are] you’ve got to play defense, you’re going to play it well, and you’re going to run the bases well.”
Robles put up a combined .276/.371/.370 line, 10 doubles, and two home runs in 52 games and 226 plate appearances in the minors last season, then he hit three doubles and three home runs in 21 games and 66 PAs in the majors, going 17 for 59 (.288/.348/.525) to finish out the season.
Robles told Washington Times’ columnist Thom Loverro this week that he watched Soto’s rookie campaign closely and he came away impressed with what the Nationals’ outfielder accomplished.
“It was very impressive, without a doubt,” Robles said. “I think anyone would like to have a season like that.
All I can do is be supportive and admire the great season he had. Hopefully something will come about in that same regards for me this season.”
He added, however, that he didn’t feel any pressure to try to match what Soto did last year.
“I don’t add that extra pressure on me,” Robles said. “I feel like if I do it’s going to change the way I play. I just know what I can do, and I’m here to do what I can do. Play my game and let everything else take care of itself. That’s what I want. I want to be part of the big league team, but I’m not going to add any extra pressure to that.”
GM Mike Rizzo, who resisted when other teams asked about Robles in trade talks over the last few years, told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier last week that he’s expecting big things from the 21-year-old outfielder, who’s battling Michael A. Taylor this Spring to see who ends up the Opening Day center fielder.
“We have expectations that he’s going to be a contributor on a championship caliber club, which is not easy,” Rizzo said.
“When you look at what we’ve done in this franchise, in this organization, when scouting and player development puts a big league player on your roster just about every season, it’s a remarkable feat.
“You’re talking about plugging in one of your own in each and every season for the last seven or eight years that has helped contribute.
“That’s a remarkable feat for a scouting staff, and a player development staff.
“Robles, we feel he’s got great upside, but his now-skill set we believe is ready for the major leagues, and for him to break into an everyday role, or an everyday contributing role on this club is going to be a remarkable feat for him, and that’s what our expectations are, [to be] a good player on a really good team.
“We’ve got four great outfielders, we feel, we’ve got a combination of terrific offense, terrific defense, elite baserunning, and great depth, so we’re extremely happy about where we’re at.”