How well can Robles play defense for the Nats?

With or without Bryce Harper in the Nationals outfield, the organization always looks to improve its defense from year to year.

This especially becomes a goal when your team falls short of the postseason after two years in a row in the National League Division Series.

So, if the Nats outfield consists of Juan Soto, Victor Robles and Adam Eaton, with Michael A. Taylor as the fourth outfielder, the defense should be able to be pretty good.

Robles was limited to 21 games in 2018 because of a elbow injury in April at Triple-A Syracuse, a far cry from what was envisioned after the youngster was placed on the team’s 2017 playoff roster.

Baseball America national writer Carlos Collazo said scouts have been impressed by Robles’ defensive skills for a while now. And the main reason why? His speed to cover ground in the outfield.

Robles-Celebrates-First-HR-Sidebar.jpg“I think defense is probably the area of players’ games that is maybe the easiest to undervalue because hitting is the sexy tool in baseball, obviously,” Collazo said. “But Robles is in the 95th percentile in his sprint speed, I believe, according to the Statcast numbers. He’s a very polished defender as well. He’s not a guy that is just running around with his head cut off. He knows routes. He gets really good jumps. He has a strong arm.”

And it’s not just his speed that scouts notice. Collazo said that Robles has now taken over the top spot in the Nats system for his arm strength as well.

“I think now that Daniel Johnson is out of the system, he has the strongest arm on the farm,” Collazo said of Robles. “He is going to be an impact defender.”

So can Robles shatter the predicted ceiling for him as the Nats top prospect in 2019? Collazo envisions Robles making a huge impact defensively on this team if he stays healthy. That impact might be the defensive version of what Soto did to change the club’s offense in his first campaign last year.

“I don’t want to compare him to guys like (the Braves’) Ender Inciarte or (the Rays’) Kevin Kiermaier, but he has all the talent to be what those guys are for their teams,” Collazo said. “That shows up for the pitchers. It’s going to help out your entire pitching staff with your ability to chase down and take away extra-base hits in the outfield and maybe even a couple of home runs, but he will be an impact defender, no doubt.”

Obviously, Soto splashed on the scene in his rookie season by demonstrating his advanced skills at the plate, slashing .292/.406/.517 with 22 homers and 70 RBIs.

The question is: How good can Soto be on defense?

Soto worked with the coaching staff before games by tracking fly balls in left field and took extra outfield during batting practice as the season went along on, working to get better defensively. Now he has an entire offseason and a full spring training to continue to refine those skills.

You can bet that Eaton, Taylor and others will also give him pointers from a player’s perspective about how to get better. But with a player like Soto, who already has athletic skill, repetition is one of the best ways for him to get better.

Having Eaton manning the outfield for over 140 games would be a big step forward defensively for the Nats. Eaton got high marks from Statcast for his ability to cover ground and make plays. This was what Mike Rizzo envisioned when he acquired Eaton. But Eaton has combined to play in only 118 games over the past two seasons.

In 2015 and 2016 with the White Sox, Eaton played in 310 games. So, an injury-free season for Eaton is a top goal for this outfield so he can make defensive plays he was known for as a center fielder in Chicago.

With Soto improving on defense, and if Eaton and Robles can stay healthy for the entire season, there is no doubt the Nats defense could make big strides in 2019 that can aid in their attempt to reclaim the NL East crown.

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