Washington Nationals: Where will Victor Robles start the 2018 season?

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WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 14: Victor Robles #14 of the Washington Nationals follows his infield hit against the Atlanta Braves in the sixth inninig at Nationals Park on September 14, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 14: Victor Robles #14 of the Washington Nationals follows his infield hit against the Atlanta Braves in the sixth inninig at Nationals Park on September 14, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /
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Washington Nationals top prospect Victor Robles made his major league debut in 2017 and was included on the postseason roster. Will he make the 2018 Opening Day roster?

The Washington Nationals semi-shocked the baseball world in September by promoting uber-prospect Victor Robles to the majors after just 37 Double-A contests. Robles had his moments, popping two triples en route to a .250/.308/.458 slash line in 27 big league plate appearances. His elite speed and plus-defense also propelled him onto the postseason roster, where he appeared in two NLDS games.

At just 20 years old, Robles flashed plenty of potential in 2017 and proved why he is regarded as the second-best prospect in baseball. However, his incredible youth and lack of high-level plate appearances limit his 2018 MLB ceiling. Additionally, there does not seem to be much room for another outfielder on the major league roster.

Assuming 38-year-old free-agent-to-be Jayson Werth is gone, the Nationals’ 2018 Opening Day outfield seems pretty set with Bryce Harper, Michael Taylor, and Adam Eaton. Further down the roster, Brian Goodwin owns a career .802 OPS in 96 games since 2016, and should have a solid hold on the fourth-outfielder spot. Goodwin could also see time in a semi-platoon with Taylor.

That leaves one more outfield position available, which the Nationals would preferably fill with a right-handed bate (Harper, Eaton, and Goodwin all hit from the left-side). While Robles fits the bill as a righty, I doubt the Nationals would restrict their budding star to a few at-bats each week.

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Because of this, that fifth outfield opening could go to a veteran free agent such as Chris Young, Rajai Davis, or Daniel Nava.

Bringing in a free agent outfielder would obviously bump Robles down to Triple-A, which is likely a safe starting point for the 20-year-old anyways. Robles is a top talent, but he still needs time developing at the plate. He has yet to post higher than a 7.6 percent walk rate since rookie ball in 2015, and did not draw a single base on balls in his short stint with the Nats.

It also remains to be seen if Robles can produce more of a home run stroke. Robles delivered 58 extra-base knocks in 127 games across three different levels, so the hard-hitting abilities are certainly there. However, just 10 of the extra-baggers resulted in home runs, so a stint in Triple-A will hopefully see more balls disappearing over the fence.

But remember: even if the home run numbers don’t spike right away, it’s not uncommon for a 185-pound kid who still cannot legally drink to take some time to develop a consistent power swing.

Also, it’s entirely possible that Robles will return to the majors sooner rather than later. Harper, Taylor, Eaton, and Goodwin all missed over a month of action last year, so Robles should still see an opportunity when one or more inevitably goes down.

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A move to Triple-A is not a banishment for the young star; it is simply the best way to maximize roster flexibility and find daily at-bats for the player who needs them most. Ideally, Robles will be back on the major league roster in October for the biggest games of the season.

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