Juan Soto, Anthony Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman, Howie Kendrick, Stephen Strasburg, and Max Scherzer are the hot topics concerning the Washington Nationals in the public eye. However, a vital piece to the puzzle has become a forgotten commodity: center fielder Victor Robles.
Perhaps it’s Soto’s rise to prominence or the hamstring injury Robles suffered in the Nationals’ first-round playoff matchup with the Los Angeles Dodgers, but the 22-year-old outfield commander has been cast aside a bit. And he has the skill set and potential to the extent where that shouldn’t have happened.
In his first full season in the big leagues, and as a full-time starter, Robles was exceptional. Hitting .255 while recording a .745 OPS and totaling 17 home runs and 65 RBIs, he was an underrated source of offense for manager Dave Martinez in the regular season. Robles is a power hitter, which can be a bit surprising given his 185-pound frame. He hits the ball with power to all fields, totaled 53 extra-base hits, and flat-out blasts fastballs.
Sure, he racked up more strikeouts than hits (140:139), but you’d expect a youngster to whiff at pitches and hit for the long ball; Robles’ plate discipline will improve.
Meanwhile, he has elite speed and utilizes that asset on the basepaths and in the field. He forces infielders to make quick decisions on groundballs, as he busts down the line. Robles also stole 28 bags in the regular season.
He has mostly hit near the bottom of the order to separate the seven hitter, which has usually been the Nationals starting catcher, from the pitcher’s spot, which makes sense. Robles’ unique combination of power and speed can pave the way for the pitcher to bunt him over to the next bag and/or steal a bag to put even more pressure on the defense.
Robles may hit near the top of the order down the road, as a one-two punch of him and Trea Turner would be deadly. If and when he hits for more contact, Robles would give the Nationals another prolific and well-versed hitter at the top of the order, setting the table for Rendon, Soto, and friends. Plus, if Turner gets out to lead off an inning, Robles would serve as an essential secondary leadoff hitter.
In just one year he has become one of the best defensive outfielders in Major League Baseball. Robles’ speed allows him to get behind any flyball in his general vicinity and chase down balls in the gap. Meanwhile, he has made a multitude of absurd diving catches, accompanied by a strong arm. Robles’ 12 assists and 22 defensive runs saves (22) this season led all center fielders in MLB.
Just look at this grab he made in the first inning of the Nationals’ Game 3 matchup with the Houston Astros in the World Series:
It can be easy to forget that Robles was the long-standing number-one prospect in the Nationals organization. Midway through last season the Nationals seemed poised to call up an outfielder from the minor leagues given Adam Eaton and Michael A. Taylor‘s injuries and inconsistency.
Robles was the safe bet to get called up. He was on the team’s postseason roster the year before, and 2018 was perceived as the season that he’d finally become a fixture on the major-league roster. Then Robles hurt his elbow in Triple A diving for a catch.
As a result, Soto, who was in Double-A and also highly regarded, got called up. And, well, Soto kinda played well, so he stuck on the Nationals roster. Soto’s success gave the Nationals no reason to rush Robles up to the majors. He ultimately didn’t begin playing on a consistent basis until September call-ups.
It’s ironic how an injury or transaction can inadvertently affect a team’s future. If Robles never gets hurt, Soto probably doesn’t get on the Nationals roster until September call-ups, and maybe he doesn’t tear the cover off the ball. Now the two outfielders are blossoming stars constituting two-thirds of the Nationals starting outfield and playing in the World Series.
Robles’ problem is that he’s playing in Soto’s shadow. Rendon dealt with the same issue before Bryce Harper departed in free agency. He needed to be the guy to prove to the baseball world how great he was. Soto wows with his continued power, and he has showcased his bat on more occasions than Robles. Most people fall in love with offense over defense.
But make no mistake about it: Robles has the talent to be a superstar.
The best is yet to come for the electric center fielder. This season has been just a glimpse into what’s to come for Robles. General Manager Mike Rizzo wouldn’t include Robles in recent trade discussions for prominent players for a simple reason: the Nationals see him as an integral part of their franchise.