Victor Robles had a good answer when asked before the third game of three with the New York Mets on Sunday if there was any one thing he came into camp focused on improving this Spring.
“I’ve always come in trying to work on all my tools, not just one,” Robles said, via translator Octavio Martinez, “and same thing with the coaching staff telling me, ‘Make sure you work on all your tools. Don’t let one fall behind and get too confident with one.’
“‘Make sure you work with everything, because you have several tools to offer.’”
Considered a five-tool prospect by just about every scout who’s seen the now-21-year-old outfielder play on his way up, Robles earned the opportunity to start in center this year.
Fair or not, the Dominican-born outfielder, who signed for $225K in 2013, is seen as one of the reasons that the Nationals could move on from Bryce Harper, who seemed destined to go to free agency from the time he signed on in D.C.
The No. 4 prospect in @MLB has a HR and 3 2B in 3 games.— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) March 31, 2019
END 6 // #Nats 5, Mets 2#FlyingV // #OnePursuit pic.twitter.com/esMJX10AcQ
With Robles and 20-year-old outfielder Juan Soto ready to step in as two-thirds of the Nats’ outfield in Harper’s absence, the Nationals had options when the 2010 No. 1 overall pick hit the market, but the top prospect in the organization coming into this season said he didn’t let that sort of thinking affect him or how he approaches things.
“I feel great for him. He got a great contract, and I wish him all the best,” Robles said of Harper and the 13-year/$330M deal the outfielder signed with the Philadelphia Phillies.
“And in terms of the added pressure, I try to maintain myself level-headed and clear my mind of all distractions and go out there and just try to play relaxed.”
Having Soto along for the ride, Robles said, makes it a little easier to deal with the difficult transition from top prospect to everyday major leaguer.
“It inspires confidence in us,” Robles said of the friendship.
“Having someone like him to really help each other out quite a bit, and it just helps both of us get inspired with confidence, and not only that, but it helps us play more relaxed as well.”
Robles got his first taste of major league action in 2017, and he got a month’s worth of at bats in the big leagues last September, once he finished up an abbreviated minor league campaign in which he suffered a hyperextended left elbow which set him back some.
He’s learning on the job, and in the first two games of the season, there have been signs of just how talented he is and how much he still has to learn. Big hits, bad jumps on a fly ball or two, a tough instance where he got picked off first after singling in the second game of the season-opening series with the Mets.
His manager, Davey Martinez, said after the second straight loss to start the season, that he knew there would be some growing pains for the youngster, who, mature as he is is still just 21 years old.
“He’s going to get better,” Martinez said. “He’s going to get better. You’ve got to remember, he’s 21 years old and he’s playing in the big leagues. I’ve been there, and I know that, know the struggle. He’s going to get better. He talks about it and he wants to get better.
“I like his intensity,” Martinez added. “I like the way he’s swinging the bat, and he’s going to get better out there.”
He’s also willing to listen and learn, the second-year skipper said.
“He’s very receptive to learning, and he’s very open-minded. [Hitting coach Kevin Long] and I talked to him about some of the things that have transpired, but he’s really good. Like I said, you’ve got to remember, he’s 21, he’s young, and he’s really exciting to watch. Speed, he’s got a cannon, he hits, hits for power, and it’s just building blocks, and we’ve got to continue to teach and continue to talk to him.”
“It’s just, I keep telling him, ‘Hey, I want you to be aggressive, but be aggressively smart,’” Martinez said, “and we talked about the baserunning yesterday, getting picked off, and he understood, and like I said, I know it’s the first two games, and he really wants to help us win, and I told him, ‘You’re going to do that, just don’t let the game speed up on you, just slow everything down, and just continue to be you.
“You’re going to go through those moments and you’re going to learn, and you’re going to clean it up.’”
How did Robles assess the ups and downs of the first two games of the 2019 campaign?
“It’s just been a good experience for me,” he said after going up against Mets’ starters Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard in the opener and second game, respectively.
“I faced two of the best pitchers right from the get-go in these first two games, and I just try to bring patience to the plate, and on the field, just stay relaxed and know my game. I don’t try to get out of my game and try do too much. That’s what I’ve been trying to do and focus on and it’s been giving me results so far.”
Robles picked up two more doubles in the series finale with the Mets, going 2 or 4 with a run scored and an RBI, which left him 5 for 11 with three doubles and a home run in three games.