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, who in his first full big league season delivered some big moments at the plate along with consistently stellar play in center field.
PLAYER REVIEW: VICTOR ROBLES
Age on opening day 2020: 22
How acquired: Signed as international free agent, July 2013
MLB service time: 1 year, 52 days
2019 salary: $557,800
Contract status: Under club control, arbitration-eligible in 2022, free agent in 2025
2019 stats: 155 G, 617 PA, 546 AB, 86 R, 139 H, 33 2B, 3 3B, 17 HR, 65 RBI, 28 SB, 9 CS, 35 BB, 140 SO, .255 AVG, .326 OBP, .419 SLG, .745 OPS, 88 OPS+, 24 DRS, 2.5 fWAR, 4.1 bWAR
2019 postseason stats: 12 G, 45 PA, 41 AB, 8 R, 9 H, 1 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 2 BB, 15 SO, .220 AVG, .273 OBP, .366 SLG, .639 OPS
Quotable: “Vic all year, even if he struggles in the game, he has a flare for the dramatic and he will come up with big hits. He’s not afraid of the moment, which is a beautiful thing for a young kid.” - Nationals bench coach Chip Hale on Robles
2019 analysis: Nationals fans had heard about Robles for years, and given the way other top prospects had burst onto the scene over the years - most notably Juan Soto in 2018 - the expectations for his first full season in the big leagues were quite high. Robles’ subsequent performance didn’t live up to those unfairly high standards, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t have a good rookie season and set the stage for what could still be a big career.
At the plate, Robles was inconsistent. He particularly struggled (as so many young hitters do) with changeups, hitting a scant .178 with a .244 slugging percentage on that pitch. But he also had, as Hale noted, a real knack for coming through in big situations. He posted an .870 OPS with runners in scoring position, .974 with two outs and runners in scoring position. He hit four ninth-inning homers, most on the team.
Where Robles consistently shone the most, of course, was in the outfield. He had a couple of misplays in April but quickly corrected those issues and became one of the best center fielders in baseball. His 24 Defensive Runs Saved (22 in center field, two in right field) led all non-catchers in the majors and earned him recognition as a Gold Glove Award finalist.
The postseason didn’t go how Robles would have liked. A hamstring injury during the National League Division Series knocked him out for more than a week, and though he started all seven games of the World Series he never fully looked like himself again.
2020 outlook: If you want to take early bets on the Nationals’ most improved player next season, Robles would a solid choice. With a full big league season under his belt, there’s ample reason to believe he’ll take some important steps forward, especially in his consistency at the plate.
The most fascinating question for Robles heading into next year might be where he fits into the Nats lineup. Davey Martinez kept him in the seventh, eighth or ninth spots nearly this entire season, but if the club loses one or more prominent free agents it’s possible the manager will give the young outfielder a chance to bat higher up.
Robles certainly has the skill set to be a top-of-the-order hitter. He’s got 25-homer and 40-steal potential, and that could play well somewhere in the front half of the lineup. Much will depend on what else the Nationals do this winter, but you have to assume Robles isn’t going to be stuck at the bottom of the batting order forever.