Victor Robles showed up at Spring Training 2.0 last summer, after baseball shut down in the middle of ST 1.0 because of the growing coronavirus epidemic in the U.S., bulked up and in great shape physically, but the added muscle was detrimental to his game, on both sides, in the 60-game campaign. Robles struggled at the plate and in the field, so he went home for the winter with clear guidance on what the team wanted him to do to prepare for 2021 and a full 162-game schedule of games.
“We talked to him about it,” manager Davey Martinez told reporters in December of 2020, “... 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 showed up for Spring Training 2021 in great baseball shape.
“He looks good, he really does,” Martinez told reporters early in camp.
“He slimmed down a little bit. His footwork has been good in the outfield ... he revamped his swing a little bit, he’s a little shorter to the baseball. So far everything looks good.”
“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.
“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.”
Robles’s defense is back where it was before 2020, but he’s continued to struggle at the plate, however, going into Sunday’s series finale with the Baltimore Orioles with a rough .207/.325/.300 line, 16 doubles, a triple, and one home run over 82 games and 270 plate appearances on the season.
In recent days, he’s been playing as part of a platoon-ish set-up, splitting time in center field with Andrew Stevenson, but Martinez had Robles back in center against a left-hander in the third of three with the Orioles on Sunday.
Before the game, the fourth-year skipper was asked what’s gone wrong for Robles this year that has left him where he is right now.
“It’s just consistency,” Martinez explained. “We know what he can do in the outfield. Like I said, he’s done a lot better on swinging at balls in the strike zone, but once he gets those balls, we want him to start hitting the balls hard.
“We haven’t seen that consistent-wise, but you know, like I’ve talked to him, and I told him this is nothing — this is just him maybe getting a little bit of extra work with [Hitting Coach Kevin Long] in the cage and trying to get his swing right, and I told him if you can prove to me that you can consistently go out there and hit the ball hard, and I’m not worried about results, but about you getting good at bats and hitting the balls hard, then you’ll see some more playing time.”
As the manager said earlier this week, Robles not playing as much right now is not a sign that the club has lost confidence in the recently-turned (just) 24-year-old outfielder.
“Not by any means — we think this guy has a bright future ahead of him,” Martinez said.
“I’ve said that before, but I want to make sure that he stays positive and keeps moving in the right direction, and we hope that he finds his swing here soon.”
Where is the issue right now? What has kept him from making the solid contact the team is looking for from him?
“It’s just mechanics,” Martinez said. “A lot of times he’s set up a little late. We’re just trying to get him early, and get him to understand that early is better than being late, and trying to use the whole field. Like I said before, he came to Spring Training, he looked good, he swung the bat really well in Spring Training, as we all know, it’s still Spring Training, but we’re trying to get him back to that.”
And as Martinez reiterated, it’s more about process than results. They want to see Robles make solid contact, and put the ball in play, and the hits either fall in or don’t, but the first step is barreling the ball up with consistency.
“It’s just the contact,” Martinez continued. “Like I said, I’m not looking for results as far as hits-wise, I’m looking for just good at bats, hitting the ball hard, consistently, taking his walks, bunting on occasion, and we talk a lot about him using his speed, and bunting for base hits, and just playing the game, playing the game the way we see he can play it, and like I said before, I know he has it in him, I just want to give him a little break, let him work on some things with K-Long, and hopefully he finds it and we can get him back in there.”