Davey Martinez and Co. in Washington’s front office have talked during the now-years-long organizational reboot about the core group of young, talented, and controllable players they’ve assembled who will be part of the next competitive club in the nation’s capital.
On Day 1 of Spring Training last week, a reporter asked the Nationals’ manager who was part of the aforementioned core in his mind.
“My core group has a lot to do with some of the guys we acquired last year in the trade,” Martinez explained, referring of course to the deal which sent Juan Soto and Josh Bell to San Diego for a package of Padres’ prospects. “The guys — Josiah [Gray], Keibert [Ruiz], CJ [Abrams], Luis García, who had been here — who I think after going up and down, up and down — I think this might be a breakout year for him. Hopefully [Victor] Robles puts it all together this year. But those guys to me.”
This year the Nats again added veterans to the mix to supplement their core members who are already in the majors, and in the skipper’s opinion, they might surprise a few people along the way.
“We got a lot of guys potentially that are going to be here for a very long time, and I’m excited to be here with these guys, and like I’ve said, watch their growth and get them to understand, ‘Hey, now is the time.’
“Everybody talks about ‘24, ‘25. No, let’s focus on ‘23 and show everybody that, hey we’re going to go out there and compete.”
Robles, 25, is still a part of the young core in West Palm Beach, FL, and he needs to show the club something in what will be his seventh big league season.
Robles finished his sixth MLB campaign at .224/.273/.311, with six home runs, 10 doubles, two triples, 17 walks, and 104 Ks in 407 plate appearances, over which he was worth 0.3 fWAR, with a .983 fld%, 4.8 UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating), which was up from -0.1 in 2021, and 12 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved), which was up from 0 DRS in ‘21 and -4 in 2020. He did end up a finalist for the NL Gold Glove in center field, though he didn’t win. But it is not his defense which is a concern for the Nats’ brass.
“We know what he can do defensively,” Martinez told reporters in West Palm this past weekend. “We need more offense from him. And I’m not talking home runs. Just talking about him just getting on base, causing havoc, and those things. Just playing the game, the simple game.”
“Victor has been around a long time,” the manager added.
“I expect Victor to bounce back, I really do, this year. I think, for me, I think after talking to him in September and just having conversations with him, he understands that this has got to be his year, he’s got to swing the bat.”
GM Mike Rizzo, late last season, echoed his manager’s take on Robles and what he needs to do to clean things up, with mistakes in the outfield and on the basepaths compounding the issues he’s had at the plate in recent years.
“You have to perform,” Rizzo said, noting obvious areas for improvement in the outfielder’s game.
“It’s easier to forgive a baserunning mistake when you’re hitting .300 with 20 home runs,” Rizzo said.
“So he’s got to perform better. I think that all the tools and skills are still there to be a good productive big league player for us, and I think that what he brings to the table constantly is that he’s a terrific outfielder. He’s got a good arm, and he adds a speed component to our team. Talking to him, he realizes that he’s got to make some improvements, and some adjustments at the plate, and if he gets back to near that 2019 player, it’s an All-Star caliber guy.”
Robles, in ‘19, hit 33 doubles and 17 home runs (over 155 games and 617 PAs), helping the club win the World Series in his first full season in the majors, which ended with Robles at .255/.326/.419 with 35 walks and 104 Ks on the year.
His manager said over the weekend his center fielder is aware of how big a year 2023 is for his future… because they’ve told him.
“He was talked to about it, but he does understand,” Martinez said. “He’s been here for quite a while now, and he’s had some success in the big leagues, and I think that he can still have success in the big leagues, I really do. I mean, he’s had a lot of opportunities, I’ve given him a lot of opportunities, now we need to see him be consistent.”
As he works on getting more consistent results at the plate, Robles has made a few adjustments he and the Nationals are hoping will help him turn things around.
“I watched him, he’s spread out a little bit, he’s a little bit lower in his legs, and his hands look like they’re a little freer, in a good position,” Martinez said, “so we’ll wait and see how that transfers in games, but I think he’s in a good spot right now.”
Has Robles noticed the number of high-end outfield prospects the Nats have in the system, working their way up to the big leagues. Is their palpable pressure, knowing that there are players on their way up in the organization? Martinez’s take? Robles needs to focus on his own development.
“I think he needs to focus on himself, and something that we always talk about, ‘Hey, control what you can control,’ right?” the skipper said. “And that’s to go out there and play baseball the right way, and he needs to understand that, ‘Hey, yeah, we do have some really good, talented outfielders, but for the most part, he is our center fielder, and it’s his job for somebody else to take.”
Martinez has felt the pressure of younger players pushing an established big leaguer, and his approach during his own playing days?
“I always told myself, ‘They’ve got to earn it to play before me. I’m going to play as hard as I can,’” Martinez said.
“[Robles is] not an old guy, he’s very young, he’s very talented. I’m hoping this year he really, offensively, he understands who he needs to be.
“We don’t need him to go out there and hit 20 [home runs]. If it happens, great, but we need him to just get on base and do the little things.”