Washington Nationals’ manager, Davey Martinez, wants his club to focus on the task at hand over the last week of the 2020 campaign, but he talked, over this past weekend, about their plans for what he wants two of the team’s young stars to work on this winter.
Victor Robles, 22, and Luis García, 20, have impressed early in their big league careers, with Robles debuting in 2017, and helping the club win the World Series last season, and García’s debut earlier this season, after he signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2016.
They are still both works in progress, however, and Martinez talked about what he wants to see them do this winter to prepare for what will hopefully be a traditional 162-game season in 2021.
Robles started play on Sunday afternoon with a .230/.300/.316 line, five doubles, a triple, and two home runs in 46 games and 171 plate appearances, over which he’d been worth -0.6 fWAR (down from .255/.326/.419, 33 doubles, three triples, and 17 home runs in 155 games and 617 PAs in 2019, over which he was worth 2.5 fWAR).
Defensively, Robles was at -5 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) this season heading into the fifth of five with the Marlins in Miami on Sunday, which was down from +23 in 2019, and his Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), which measures, “the number of runs above or below average a fielder is in both range runs, outfield arm runs, double play runs and error runs combined,” was off as well, down to a -5.3 UZR (from a +5.0 UZR in 2019).
Martinez reiterated on Saturday what he’d said earlier this season about concerns that the weight Robles put on this offseason (and it’s all muscle) had negatively affected him in his speed and flexibility.
“Obviously he was strong enough last year,” Martinez said, “... he just came back like that and this winter, I’m going to propose a program for him, if he wants to carry that weight, but he’s got to get his speed back, he’s got to get agility back.
“So we’re going to propose a program for him to get all that back. If he wants to carry that weight, he’s got to get those things back. And I think he’ll be okay. Last year he was strong, this year he came back — like I said, he’s big, really big strength-wise. I see him in the weight room, and he’s strong. He’s got to learn how to carry that weight if he wants to play that way.”
Looking at the numbers this season, Martinez said, it is possible to draw the conclusion that the additional weight is negatively affecting the center fielder.
“If you look at the numbers you could probably say that that’s possible, but like I said, he’s such a good athlete that I think that he comes back, he works on these little things in the winter time and he comes back, we talked a lot about his flexibility, he comes back a little bit more flexible and you’ll see the Robles that we love to see out there. He’s not awful, right now, he’s far from that. But like I said, he’s a young kid and just like I said, he thought about getting stronger and bigger over the three months that he was off and he worked on doing that and he felt good, and he was hitting and he said he hit the ball really hard, but there’s a difference between taking batting practice and hitting the ball hard and then doing it in the game. So, I think he’s realized that.”
Robles’s plate discipline, or lack of it, has been a cause for concern as well this season, as his ability to barrel it up, with his 0.9 Barrel% this season down from 4.8% in 2019, 6.3% in 2018, and 5.3% in his rookie campaign in 2017. His K% is up too ( 22.7% in 2019 to 26.9% in 2020). His Zone Contact% is down (78.7% from 85.7%). His Whiff% is up (28.1% from 23.5%).
What does his manager see on the offensive side of Robles’s game?
“I know he’s trying really hard, one, too hard sometimes, when you’re not getting the results, and the hits, as a young player, you tend to want to swing more and be overly aggressive,” Martinez said.
“You hit it on the nose when you said he’s swinging a lot more,” the manager told the reporter who brought up some of the stats above.
“He’s not working counts, he’s not working at bats, and I know [Hitting Coach Kevin] Long has talked to him about that, maybe trying to see some pitches. When you’re not getting the hits, you want to try to press to try to get hits. Moving forward, we’ve got to remember, he’s such a young kid still, and he’s still got a lot to learn. I still believe that, one, he’s going to be a Gold Glover, and two that this kid is going to put up some numbers as a hitter. So, we just got to keep working with him, but when you’re struggling sometimes the best thing to do is just see pitches. See pitches and try to get the ball in the strike zone and know which balls you can hit hard and kind of wait for that one pitch. I’ve been there before, and if you try to swing your way out of it, sometimes you just start chasing way out of the zone and obviously he’s done that quite a bit.
“K-Long is talking to him all the time about getting the ball in the strike zone, getting a pitch that you can handle and put that ball in play.”
Putting the ball in play hasn’t been an issue for Luis García this season. Martinez has joked at times about the rookie’s ability to make contact with anything, though at times saying it isn’t always a good thing.
García started the day on Sunday with a .301/.321/.408 line, five doubles, two home runs, three walks, and 21 Ks in 30 games and 106 PAs since he was called up to make his Major League debut, and he has been worth -0.2 fWAR in his rookie campaign.
At just 20 years old, Martinez said, García is getting important experience, and doing so in an environment that’s much different than it would be in any other campaign, which has at least allowed the young infielder to adjust at his own pace with less pressure in the empty stadiums he’s played in this year.
“It’s the perfect scenario for a young kid right now,” Martinez said.
“There’s no fans and he goes out there and he tries to relax, he goes out there and has fun and goes to play and he’s done really well. So it’s good to see.
“He’s still learning, and he’s got a lot to learn and he knows that, but he wants to learn and he’s processing everything fairly well.”
Martinez has also tried to avoid putting any pressure on García, who hadn’t played above Double-A ball before this year, and struggled at Double-A Harrisburg in his first exposure at that level as a 19-year-old in 2019 (.257/.280/.337, 22 doubles, four triples, four home runs in 129 G, 553 PAs).
“I want him to go out there and just relax and have fun and just play the game. I told him, just be you,” Martinez said.
“There’s going to be conversations about the game that we have every day with him,” the skipper added, “... whether it’s with me, whether it’s with [Bench Coach] Tim Bogar, or whether it’s with [Third Base Coach] Chip [Hale].
“This is a learning process for him, and it’s also a learning process for us to see how much he knows and understands the game.”
Asked to elaborate on what benefit there has been to playing with no fans in parks this season under COVID protocols, Martinez said it takes some pressure off.
“When he makes a mistake or a big moment that something doesn’t go right,” he explained, “he doesn’t hear the fans. Especially on the road, and people getting on him.
“It’s a chance for him to go out there and relax and just play baseball. Obviously they have fans in some of the minor league parks, but this is good for him.
“He’s playing in the major leagues for the first time, he’s out there and he gets to relax and he gets to have fun, and he gets to enjoy the game and enjoy his teammates. That’s — for me, that’s exactly what he’s been doing and he’s been good at it. So it’s a great experience for him, moving forward. Every day he’s out there he’s getting more and more comfortable.
“He feels like he belongs here, which for a 20-year-old is pretty nice, so you know, let’s continue to build off of that, and he has an understanding going into Spring Training what he needs to do and what he needs to do to get better.”
What does he need to do? Martinez had some ideas.
“We talked to him about flexibility, one, two, getting a little stronger. Like I said, he’s still super-young,” Martinez said.
“Staying in his legs. We really feel like when he stays in his legs as a hitter, he can hit the ball a long way as we saw the home run he hit in Tampa.
“Sometimes he gets very handsy, so we want him to use his legs more. We talked to him about that. We talked to him about different ways of fielding with the shifting and all that stuff. And the other thing is working on his baserunning.
“I told him, I said, you don’t have to be really fast to be a good baserunner, I want you to be the best baserunner that you could possibly be, so when you come to Spring Training next year, understand that when you have a chance to go first-to-third, we want you to take that, but we want you to know how to do it, when to do it, so he’s got a lot of stuff that he wants to do. Agility stuff that we talked with him. Get quicker feet. So we’ve got a program set up for him that he’s going to do.
“We talked a little bit about him maybe getting some at bats in Winter Ball if there’s a Winter Ball, just so he can a few more at bats, and then shut him down, get him a break, and then get ready for Spring Training. We just want to make sure we keep eyes on him. My plans are hopefully this year to make it down to the Dominican Republic for a week and watch these guys and actually really work a week with them so they understand what they need to do coming into Spring Training.”