At the beginning of the year, everyone anticipated Victor Robles to be a quick call-up; he was going to be the young face of the future that made his mark this season, digging out a role in the outfield and being an important piece for the Nationals off the bench or perhaps in some kind of starting role. That wasn't the case. Robles suffered a freak injury on his elbow at the beginning of April that forced him onto the disabled list until deep into the summer.
Instead, it was Juan Soto, another top-ranked outfield prospect, who got his chance. No one anticipated Soto making the big leagues this season. But Soto tore his way through the farm, playing in three different levels of the minor leagues in a manner of months. And when there was an opportunity for him to come up to the big league team, the Nationals decided to take a chance. And Soto, who never even stepped foot onto a Triple-A field, made the most of his opportunity.
Robles and Soto have yet to play in an outfield together, but now that Robles has returned to the Nationals in the most recent round of September call-ups, they should get the chance to play together for the first time. With the way the Nationals are going, there should be plenty of time to try different arrangements and give lots of guys playing time, and this should give the Nationals a glimpse of what might be in store for their future. And if what Robles and Soto have already shown is any indication, it should be very, very exciting.
Robles got everyone's attention when he was a part of last season's September call-ups. He made his major league debut and he lit up the field. His very first hit was a memorable double that he attempted to stretch into a triple. In just 13 games at the major league level, Robles delighted us. He hit at a .250/.308/.458 clip, driving in four, scoring two runs, hitting one double and two triples. The numbers themselves weren't overwhelming, but it was the way he played that let you know he was something special.
He played with his hair on fire and he had elite speed. You can get better at hitting, but speed isn't something you can teach. What he brought to the table was enough to make the postseason roster that year, and hopefully it can lead to a more permanent big league role next season. He looks like he's outgrown the minor leagues; he's excelling at Triple-A, hitting .278/.356/.386 (though much better than that in recent stretches), hitting two home runs and stealing 14 bases in 40 games. It's time for him to graduate.
Soto has been nothing short of amazing in his time with the Nationals this season. The 19-year-old has played in 94 games, far more than he's played at any level in his career, and while he's slowing down a tiny bit compared to what he was doing, he is still putting up fantastic numbers. He has 98 hits, 63 runs scored, 20 doubles, 16 home runs, 54 RBIs and 68 walks. His slash line is .299/.419/.512. He's shattering the record books for teenagers. He has a great eye for the strike zone, his fielding has improved as he's spent more time out there and he's made his presence invaluable. Among his Nationals teammates, he trails only Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon and Trea Turner in RBIs for the whole season. And he made his debut on May 20. If he kept up on this pace, imagine what the Nationals could get out of a whole year of Soto. He has the potential to put up All-Star, perhaps even MVP-caliber numbers.
Robles and Soto are 21 and 19, respectively, and already their futures look very bright. Robles has a little more to prove, simply because of how much less time he's had, but Soto has shown that he can be a full-time major league player. Both have the skill sets to revitalize a team that is having a wash of a season, and, if they play up to their potential, can be manning the outfield in Nationals Park for years to come.
Liz Barr blogs about the Nationals for The Nats Blog. Follow her on Twitter: @RaiseTheBarr1. Her opinions on the Nationals will appear here as part of MASNsports.com's initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.