LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - Wherever he starts the 2018 season, top Nationals prospect Victor Robles is going to be patrolling the outfield every day. There’s no role for him as a part-time outfielder with the Nats, general manager Mike Rizzo said Wednesday at the Winter Meetings.
“He won’t be an extra outfielder on the big league club,” Rizzo said during his daily briefing with the media. “He’s going to play every day somewhere. If it’s not set up for him to play every day in the big leagues, then he’ll play every day in Triple-A.”
Given that the Nationals’ proposed outfield next season consists of left fielder Adam Eaton, center fielder Michael A. Taylor and right fielder Bryce Harper, Rizzo’s comments would seem to suggest that the 20-year-old Robles is targeted for Triple-A Syracuse.
The only thing that might change that plan is if Eaton is slow to recover from the torn ACL that cost him most of last season. In that case, Robles might play full-time in D.C.
Robles bypassed Triple-A last season, jumping from Double-A Harrisburg to Washington in September, and hit .250 (6-for-24) for the Nationals, who put them on their National League Division Series roster as a spare outfielder and pinch-runner.
He started 2017 at high Single-A Potomac, where he slashed .289/.377/.495 with seven homers, 33 RBIs and 16 steals in 77 games. That earned him a late July promotion to Harrisburg, where Robles slashed .324/.394/.489 with three homers and 14 RBIs in 37 games.
Robles’ ability to hit for power, hit for average, run the bases and use his speed in center field have tantalized since the Nats signed him as a non-drafted free agent out of the Dominican Republic as a 16-year-old in 2013.
He’s now the jewel of the Nats farm system, and the club has so far resisted overtures to include him in a blockbuster trade. The White Sox tried unsuccessfully to get him in a deal for left-hander Chris Sale before sending Sale to the Red Sox last winter, and the Pirates tried to pry him away in a trade never consummated for center fielder Andrew McCutchen at last year’s Winter Meetings.
Rizzo doesn’t want to label anyone an untouchable, but Robles is about as close as it gets. When Robles’ name is mentioned, the conversation usually ends pretty abruptly.
“I would think there’s no payer that’s totally untouchable, but he’s a very difficult player to move in any kind of scenario,” Rizzo said.
Though the Nationals are reluctant to include Robles and highly touted 19-year-old corner outfielder Juan Soto in any potential deals unless they are overwhelmed with an offer, Rizzo said other teams have taken notice of the depth in the Washington system.
Rizzo has never been afraid to stock his major league roster by packaging together multiple minor league players to acquire affordable, controllable talent. And though Robles and Soto appear off-limits, the GM thinks there’s an ample supply of good farm players to pull off a significant trade if the right opportunity presents itself.
“We’ve got a really good crop of prospects,” Rizzo said. “We got a deep system. I think it goes way beyond what the publications think about us. I think the industry sees our prospects much better than some of the publications do. We’ve gotten hit on a lot of guys and a lot of guys that aren’t the common names that you hear.”