Robles poised to realize potential, if Nats have a spot for him

As our offseason coverage kicks into high gear, we’re going to review each significant player on the Nationals roster. We continue today with Victor Robles, the top prospect whose return to the majors was delayed until September due to an elbow injury.

PLAYER REVIEW: VICTOR ROBLES

Age on opening day 2019: 21

How acquired: Signed as international free agent, July 2013

MLB service time: 51 days

2018 salary: $545,000

Contract status: Under team control through 2021, arbitration-eligible in 2022, free agent in 2025

2018 stats: 21 G, 66 PA, 59 AB, 8 R, 17 H, 3 2B, 1 3B, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 3 SB, 2 CS, 4 BB, 12 SO, .288 AVG, .348 OBP, .525 SLG, .874 OPS, 1 DRS, 0.5 fWAR, 0.4 bWAR

Quotable: “What I’ve seen so far, and what I’ve known of him, he’s going to be really good.” - Davey Martinez

2018 analysis: At the outset of the season, there was every reason to believe we’d be seeing Robles in the big leagues sooner rather than later, and for an extended period of time. He was the organization’s top-rated prospect, and after an impressive September 2017 debut that earned him a spot on the postseason roster, there wasn’t much left standing in his way.

But only one week into his season at Triple-A Syracuse, Robles suffered a nasty left elbow injury trying to make a diving catch in shallow center field. The Nationals initially feared he would be lost for the season, then breathed a sigh of relief when the injury was diagnosed only as a hyperextension, one that would allow him to return in roughly three months.

Robles-Slide-White-Sidebar.jpgRobles did return healthy in midsummer and proceeded to play 40 games for Syracuse, with numbers that were solid but hardly head-turners. Meanwhile, the top outfield prospect who did reach Washington early in the season was Juan Soto, who wound up the everyday left fielder and a potential Rookie of the Year after a remarkable performance for a 19-year-old.

So Robles didn’t make his 2018 major league debut until Sept. 4, at which point the Nationals were all but out of the pennant race. As he’s often done in the minors, he struggled out of the gate, going 2-for-15 in the majors. But as he’s also often done in the past, he quickly found his stroke and performed well once he settled in, hitting .341 with three homers, seven extra-base hits and nine RBIs over his final 47 plate appearances.

2019 outlook: Though he lost half a season due to the elbow injury, and though he saw Soto leapfrog him on the organizational depth chart, Robles remains a highly touted prospect with an awfully high ceiling. The Nationals still view him as a key long-term piece of their puzzle - or, if not, then an appealing trade chip, should they want to bolster a different part of their roster.

As is the case with pretty much every outfielder in this organization right now, Robles’ fate is going to be tied to Bryce Harper’s pending decision as a free agent. If Harper signs elsewhere, there’s a good chance the center field job will be Robles’ to lose next spring. If Harper returns, the only way Robles cracks the lineup is if Adam Eaton is traded or someone else gets hurt.

What kind of player, exactly, is Robles going to be, and when can he be expected to become that player? The most positive scouting reports indicate he’s going to compare favorably to Andrew McCutchen, which is incredibly lofty praise and reason for the Nationals to refuse to trade him. That’s not written in stone yet, though, and Robles still has much to prove. He has the raw skills to be an elite all-around player, no doubt. But he also needs plenty of fine-tuning.

How will Robles, a gregarious personality who hardly lacks in confidence, handle the next phase of his career? Does he see what Soto did this year and push himself to do the same or better when he gets his long-awaited opportunity? Or does the pressure to duplicate his fellow Dominican - not to mention the potential pressure that would be thrust on him if he ends up as Harper’s replacement in D.C. - get to him and prevent him from becoming the player everyone has long expected him to become?

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