The most prominent National currently playing winter ball is getting plenty of opportunities to refine his game. And to bat at the top of his lineup.
Victor Robles, who is spending the early portion of this winter playing in his native Dominican Republic, has been leading off for Águilas Cibaeñas. And so far, he’s doing the two things most clubs want out of their leadoff man: He’s getting on base, and he’s scoring runs.
Through 12 games played, Robles has posted a .352 on-base percentage. That’s second-best on the roster, behind only first baseman Rangel Ravelo’s .378 mark.
Robles also ranks second on the team with eight runs scored, and wouldn’t you know the guy ahead of him with nine is none other than ex-Nationals teammate Wilmer Difo. (For those who may have forgotten, Difo became a free agent in October after declining an outright assignment to the minors.)
It’s a small sample - Robles missed several games with an ankle injury - and winter ball stats always need to be taken with a grain of salt. But Robles’ performance to date is notable, and his spot in the lineup is especially notable.
As the Nationals try to sort through myriad issues entering 2021, Robles’ role continues to be a topic of debate. Manager Davey Martinez has always liked the idea of the speedy center fielder leading off, and he did have modest success atop the lineup in a handful of games against left-handed starters in September.
But Robles is far from a sure thing, and club officials are most concerned that he recapture his peak defensive form from 2019 after a hugely disappointing season in center field this year. Improved offensive production is desired as well, but the safest route may be to leave him at the bottom of the lineup until he proves he can be successful on a consistent basis.
And, it should be noted, Robles hasn’t exactly been a consistent hitter so far this winter. Though his on-base percentage is solid, he’s batting a mere .244 (11-for-45) with two doubles, two homers and eight strikeouts.
Suffice it to say, Robles still has plenty of work ahead of him. The Nationals want him to report to spring training in better shape and ready to perform in the field and at the plate. His performance in the Dominican Republic this winter could offer some evidence if he’s capable of reaching that more important goal next spring.