During the 60-game 2020 campaign, over the winter, and again early in Spring Training, Washington Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez has been clear that the weight his center fielder, Victor Robles, put on last season, while all muscle, definitely affected the 23-year-old’s speed and agility.
“We talked to him about it,” Martinez told reporters in December, “... and like I said, it’s a lot about agility drills, getting his quickness back. Like I said, he’s a beast. He’s got such an unbelievable physique, but he cannot lose his quickness, his speed, because that’s who he is, that’s how he plays, so with that being said, we’ve got eyes on him.”
Robles played in the Dominican Winter League for a time, and the Nationals’ trainer and the trainer in the DR were watching him closely, and Martinez said when he was done there the work would continue.
“He wanted to play to hone in on his swing, and he is swinging a lot better. So, but I told him he’s going to have to spend January really, really focusing on his quickness and his speed.”
Robles apparently took the advice from the Nationals’ brass seriously.
When position players arrived in West Palm Beach, FL for the start of workouts last week, he was noticeably slimmed down according to his manager.
“He looks good, he really does,” Martinez said. “He slimmed down a little bit. His footwork has been good in the outfield. Like I said, he revamped his swing a little bit, he’s a little shorter to the baseball. So far everything looks good. Want to him to stay healthy, want to get him into games, and get him playing again, and as we all know the upside with Victor is unbelievable. We want to get him back to that Gold Glove status and continue to develop.”
Robles finished 2020 with a .220/.293/.315 line, five doubles, and three home runs in the 52 games he played and 189 plate appearances he made last season, over which he was worth -0.2 fWAR.
That followed a 2019 campaign which saw him put up a .255/.326/.419 line with 33 doubles and 17 HRs in 155 games and 617 plate appearances in a 2.5 fWAR season.
Defensively last year, Robles, who had finished at +23 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) in 2019, ended up -4 DRS over 52 games, with an Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), which fell from 5.3 in 1,199 innings in ‘19, to a -3.6 UZR in 422 2⁄3 innings out in center field in 2020.
Martinez said early this spring, Robles looked more like the 2019 version of himself than the one everyone saw last summer.
“He’s slimmed down, he’s quicker. He’s still big muscular-wise. I mean, the kid is well-built.
“Hopefully we can start getting him in games and building him up and getting him ready for the season. But right now, he worked really hard this offseason and he’s ready to go.”
“I focused a lot on cutting weight, muscle weight this year,” Robles said through interpreter Octavio Martinez in the outfielder’s first press availability of the spring on Friday.
“And getting to camp a little more agile and a little bit faster, with my vastus muscles, and thank God that I worked out hard this offseason.
“I was able to drop weight and feel a lot quicker this year.”
Did he think, like Martinez and others like GM Mike Rizzo said, that the weight he added last year was detrimental to his game at the plate and in the outfield?
“That’s part of it,” he said. “I felt like it was a little too much weight. I’ve never been used to carrying that much weight before, and I felt like I couldn’t move as well, and I focused on cutting my weight down this year and being able to be more mobile and more agile and so far it’s worked out.”
“The extra little weight I was carrying possibly affected my play a little bit,” Robles admitted.
“I still felt I had the ability that I’ve always had, but I did notice a difference because of the extra weight I had on my body, but thank God, right now, I feel great and I’m planning on having a big year.”
“He came back this year, he’s slimmer but he’s hitting the ball really well,” Martinez said.
“What I like is that he looks agile. I’m watching him run around in the outfield, going to get balls.
“His first step is a lot better now than it was last year. And he’s moving around a little better.
“I’ve said this before. There is so much upside in Victor and what he can do. Hopefully he feels better about himself this spring. He looks really good. And he’s another guy that he comes in, he’s got this big smile on his face all the time. He’s got a lot of energy.”
Was the smile, and some of the energy missing as he struggled on both sides of the game last summer?
“At the end, he didn’t hit like he wanted to hit, so I think for him he was a little disappointed,” Martinez said. “But I told him, ‘Hey, you’re young, you’re learning, let’s use this as a learning curve, and move forward.’ And I told him all winter, I think 2021 is going to be a big year for you. So come to Spring Training ready, and like I said, slim down a little bit, and let’s get you back on your feet where we know you’re really good, and we’ll go from there.”
Having worked on his speed and agility all winter, what’s Robles’s focus this spring?
“I really want to improve on my baserunning,” he said.
“I know that I got the speed for it, I just need to improve a little bit more with being a little bit smarter on the basepaths and that’s what I’m going to focus on.”