The Victor Robles Situation

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 04: Victor Robles #16 of the Washington Nationals makes a catch at the wall to end the third inning against the New York Mets at Citi Field on September 04, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 04: Victor Robles #16 of the Washington Nationals makes a catch at the wall to end the third inning against the New York Mets at Citi Field on September 04, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /

Victor Robles was once a highly touted prospect for the Washington Nationals. He was so highly touted, in fact, that he was deemed untouchable in trade talks. Trades for players like Chris Sale, JT Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen and others all fell through as the Nationals would not trade Victor Robles. The Adam Eaton trade, which at the time had everyone’s jaw on the floor with the package dealt to acquire him, only came to fruition because the Chicago White Sox would not trade Chris Sale to the Nationals unless they included Victor Robles. Instead, the Nationals elected to keep their top prospect and pivot to Adam Eaton instead.

Fast forward a few years later, and it seems like on a team that has little to none set in stone with their major league roster, Victor Robles is still an unproven commodity. The only facet of his prospective skill set that has translated to the Major League level is his glove and defense, and in fairness, it has translated in a very big way.

Just yesterday, Victor Robles was nominated as a Gold Glove finalist for Center Field for the second time in his career, the first nomination coming back in 2019. It is nice to see Robles get some recognition, and for the Nationals to have at least one more tiny bright spot in an otherwise forgettable season. But Victor Robles most certainly earned this nomination, as he had plenty of insane defense plays that would leave the greatest of defenders speechless.

While amazing to see Robles pull off plays like the one above, one still can’t help but scratch their head on what could have been.

Back in 2017, Baseball America had Victor Robles ranked as their 13th overall prospect entering the season. Not the Nationals’ 13th prospect, but the 13th best prospect in all of baseball. He was even ranked ahead of guys like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Rafael Devers, both of whom are poised to break the bank when, or if, they hit free agency. In 2018, Robles was ranked even higher, as he was 5th overall according to Baseball America, ahead of guys like Fernando Tatis Jr., Bo Bichette and Walker Buehler.

Robles was scouted on an 80 grade scale with a 60 grade hit tool, fielding tool and arm tool, meaning scouts saw his bat as being just as good as his defense. He also had a 50 grade power tool, which is respectable, and 70 grade speed. So why hasn’t his bat made the jump to MLB pitching?

In the Minors, Robles slashed .306/.391/.464 for a .855 OPS for his career, which totaled 408 games. In his Major League Career, Victor Robles is slashing .233/.306/.359 for a .666 OPS.

You can expect his production to decrease going from the Minors to the Majors, especially at first as he gets acclimated to the Big Leagues, but we’re now past the point where Victor Robles has played more Major League games than Minor League games, and we haven’t seen anything remotely close to his Minor League production.

His best season came in 2019, his previous Gold Glove Finalist campaign, when he hit .255/.326/.419 for a .745 OPS. It seemed like a good starting point for what was his first full campaign. Since then, however, his OPS has decreased every season, and basically all of his offensive stats have hit career worsts. In 132 games this past season, Robles had an abysmal .584 OPS. For reference, Alcides Escobar had a .542 OPS at the time of his release.

Robles has been flat out bad at the plate. 2019 was solid, and if that was the offensive player he would prove to be, it would be perfectly fine, especially considering how great he is defensively. But the fact of the matter is, Robles is the weak spot in what is already a very weak lineup. The Nationals have tried hitting him first to utilize his speed, and they’ve tried hitting him last to hide him to hide his weaknesses, but nothing has seemed to work. The Nationals even sent Robles down to AAA in 2021 to see if he could figure it out there. He had some success, as he hit .301/.370/.566 for a .935 OPS in 23 games with AAA Rochester, but it did not carry over when he returned to the Nats.

Now, I have been a critic of Victor Robles for quite some time, dating all the way back to 2019 and the first ever episode of Half Street High Heat. I’ve gotten plenty of flak for calling it so early for Robles, but I do think I was right, as we have seen the past three seasons. But I will say this: Victor Robles is only 25 years old and has already completed four full Major League Seasons. Aaron Judge didn’t even make his MLB debut until age 24, and his first full MLB season came at age 25.

In no way am I comparing Victor Robles to Aaron Judge, so don’t hear what I am not saying, but my point is every player develops at a different pace. Victor Robles’ glove and speed lended itself to being called up early and the Nats thought his bat would eventually adjust. It hasn’t, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t.

A frequent comparison I see for Victor Robles is Byron Buxton, and understandably so. Byron Buxton seemed like a surefire bust or one of those “what if he stayed healthy” type players before he really turned on the offensive production the last couple years. The big difference is that Buxton has been plagued by injuries whereas Robles has generally stayed healthy. Taking out his rookie season and his very injured 2018 campaign, Buxton also has never had an OPS below .700. But again, if Victor Robles turns into a Byron Buxton type player, I will be more than happy.

So here is where we stand. Victor Robles is essentially the same player he was when he made his debut back in 2017/18. His glove and speed lend itself to stick at the Major League level, and the Nats are waiting to see if his bat will adjust. His 2019 offensive output would be welcome, but the 2023 Nationals will not be even remotely close to the 2019 Nationals, obviously. So can Victor Robles produce at any level without All Star caliber players surrounding him? The Nationals will need him to if they hope to be proven right on making him an untouchable player all those years ago.