WASHINGTON (AP) — Every team has a “next big thing” in the minors, waiting for the chance to dazzle in the majors, and Washington Nationals fans have been hearing about Victor Robles for years.
He’s an outfielder whose speed fuels his offense and defense. He’s shown power, too. “Toolsy” is the way new Nationals second baseman Brian Dozier described him. “Explosive,” was first baseman Ryan Zimmerman’s adjective.
Robles started in center field Monday for Washington’s exhibition finale against the New York Yankees at Nationals Park. That’s also where where he’s expected to be on opening day, finally getting his turn to begin a season in the big leagues, taking over in an outfield that lost Bryce Harper to free agency.
“That’s what we work here for, to be an everyday player in the big leagues. I feel physically and mentally ready for that,” Robles said in an interview through bullpen catcher Octavio Martinez, who serves as a team translator. “Absolutely, that’s something you imagine, to be with the team on opening day — and in the starting lineup. So it’ll hopefully be a great moment.”
The plan is for Robles to line up with Juan Soto, the runner-up as NL Rookie of the Year in 2018, in left field, and Adam Eaton in right.
Asked how he’d describe himself, Robles said: “A player that’s very aggressive and that never is comforrtable with staying where his abilities are. I always want to be improving.”
He got a taste of the majors, and the Nationals got a glimpse of him, during brief callups in 2017 and 2018.
With 83 at-bats over a combined 34 games, he hit .277 with an .843 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, producing three homers, three triples, four doubles, 14 RBIs and three steals.
“He plays with a ton of energy,” Max Scherzer said. “I absolutely love it. … Our outfielders really play with some grit and some grind. They have a ton of energy, and I feel like our ballclub really feeds off that.”
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Soto came out of nowhere at age 19 last season. Robles is 21.
That prompted Eaton to joke: “It’s unbelievable how young our outfield is. They bring the median down, with me as a 30-year-old.”
Robles says Soto has helped him with advice about getting ready to be an everyday player in the majors, telling him above all to be patient at the plate.
“They like to have a good time. And when you see them together, they’re like little kids. They’ve got these different handshakes and all kinds of different things,” manager Dave Martinez said. “You know what they do? They keep our clubhouse loose. They keep our dugout loose. And it’s fun to watch them interact.”
While Soto batted third ahead of Anthony Rendon against the Yankees and that appears to be the lineup Martinez will go with, Robles is often going to hit No. 9, one spot behind the pitcher.
Martinez said he likes that arrangement because it allows him to have Robles followed by leadoff man Eaton and No. 2 hitter Trea Turner.
That offers the youngster better protection than a pitcher would provide, in addition to having three swift guys one after the other.
Is Robles ready?
“There’s only one way to find out. He’s handeld himself well when he’s been up. He works hard, does everything he should. Obviously the talent’s there,” Zimmerman said. “It’s just a matter of putting him out there and making sure he can handle it, which I don’t think he’ll have a problem with.”
Yankees: Start Thursday at the Baltimore Orioles.
Nationals: Start Thursday at home against the New York Mets.
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