clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The stage is finally set for Nationals’ Victor Robles to start his rise to stardom

With the 2019 season just around the corner, Victor Robles finally has the opportunity to prove he was worth the hype as the Washington Nationals center fielder

MLB: Spring Training-Boston Red Sox at Washington Nationals Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Washington Nationals fans have been hearing the name Victor Robles for quite some time now. Signed way back in 2013, he proceeded to have a meteoric rise up prospect lists everywhere.

Now, after a couple cups of coffee in two straight Septembers, he finally has a clear path to an everyday role in the Nationals’ outfield.

Unfortunately, the path cleared via an injury to Michael A. Taylor. The toolsy outfielder strained his left knee and hip on a spectacular diving catch against the Minnesota Twins on Thursday and is now set to miss “a significant amount time.”

Before the injury, it was fair to wonder whether Taylor was likely to be the primary center fielder.

He was doing his usual thing of tearing the cover off the ball at Spring Training and was also getting a lot of run with the starters compared to Robles. There were also service time questions, as if Robles was in the minors until June 3rd, the Nationals would gain an extra season control over the outfielder.

But there’s no doubt about it now. Barring an injury of his own injury, Robles will be manning center field for Opening Day on March 28th.

For those that have missed the hype train throughout the minor leagues, Robles has all makings of a five-tool star that will roam the Nats Park outfield for years to come.

“[Robles] is a tool box,” Nats GM Mike Rizzo recently told MLB Network Radio. “He can do a lot of things on the field that are amazing. He’s an elite runner. He’s an elite defender. He’s got a great throwing arm. He’s got sneaky power that he’s just coming into.”

“If we keep him on the field, we think that we’re going to have ourselves, early on in his career, a real solid contributor with a chance to be really, really good at the end of his career.”

He’s put all those skills on display so far in tantalizing flashes. During his short big league career, he’s slashed a solid .277/.337/.506 with three homers, three triples and three steals.

He’s also been able to put on a show this spring with the bat. He currently sports an impressive .351/.468/.541 slash line as well as a pair of home runs to go with a league-leading six stolen bases.

The only real knock on his performance in Grapefruit League play has been his defense. He’s lost three balls in the sun in three separate games and still appears somewhat raw on that front.

There are still going to be growing pains, but he’s shown with his speed that, in time, he can overcome this with a bit more experience at the highest level.

One way or another, he’s in for a rookie campaign that has the potential to put the baseball world on notice. There might be some deja vu for Nationals fans, as fellow Dominican outfielder, Juan Soto, was able to burst onto the scene last year.

But despite the shared nationality and position as outfielders, Soto and Robles have their success in completely different ways.

The former is one of the purest hitters in the league who can command any given plate appearance while possessing plenty of raw power. The latter uses his speed to affect the game on both sides of the ball to make things happen for his team, while mixing in sneaky power when needed.

So even though they may end up having similar levels of success overall, it’s not simply a case of Robles following in Soto’s exact footsteps this year.

“Honestly, I don’t think there’s an impact at all. I think Robles and Soto are two different players,” Martinez said after the team’s first full Spring Training workout. Instead, he wants Robles to focus on his own strengths rather than his outfield partner’s.

“I talked to Robles already about just getting on base, taking his walks, bunting, whatever you can do to get on base,” Martinez said of his expectations for Robles. “The biggest thing for me is playing good defense and running the bases hard.”

With that skill set in mind, he would be perfectly suited to a leadoff role, which is where he’s spent most of this spring. However, that’s fully booked right now, with Adam Eaton and Trea Turner the leading candidates to top the order.

Therefore, the Nats’ manager may need to get creative with his lineup to get the most out of his rookie. Thankfully, he seems to have a plan for that.

“We might have him hit ninth and have that second leadoff hitter and let the pitcher hit eighth,” Martinez said as position players reported to West Palm Beach.

That would be the ideal scenario for Robles, allowing him to get on base ahead of Eaton and Turner and wreak havoc on the bases. Based on a full season’s workload, that could allow him to reach roughly 40 steals, a figure he almost eclipsed back in 2016 in the minors.

Add in a sprinkling of the power that we’ve seen in his September and spring appearances and we could be looking at rare air for the youngster.

He hit three long balls in a small sample of 21 games last season. So if we stretch that out to 140 games, giving him plenty of rest during the season, and that would be an output of 20 home runs.

Twenty homers might be a little bold, but it’s well within reach for Robles if he stays healthy for the majority of the season. If he can live up to the hype and manage a 20-40 season, he would be the first to do so since Carlos Gomez back in 2013.

Again, that power output might be a little bold in Robles’ rookie season, but it’s hardly unrealistic. That speaks volumes about the ceiling that he possesses.

That’s just a taste of the kind of player Robles could be this season, and he’s just 21 years old. Mouthwatering stuff for Nationals fans who hope to put you-know-who firmly in the rear view mirror thanks to their two wunderkind outfielders.