Victor Robles thought he had played his final game of the 2017 season on Monday. He went 2 for 4 with two doubles and a walk starting in center field for Class AA Harrisburg against the Altoona Curve, a fitting finale for one of baseball’s most exciting prospects. A busy offseason was ahead, starting with the instructional league, then the Arizona Fall League and the Dominican Winter League; a hefty workload for the Nationals’ prized 20-year-old talent.
But those plans changed drastically Wednesday morning, when Nationals vice president of player personnel Doug Harris informed him he would be joining the Nationals on Thursday, making him the youngest player in the majors this season.
“I worked hard for this, but I was surprised that they called me up so fast at 20 years old,” Robles said in Spanish in front of his locker in the home clubhouse at Nationals Park on Thursday. “But I think I have the potential to help the team win a championship.”
The Nationals’ plans for Robles changed when outfielder Brian Goodwin, who is on the disabled list with a groin injury, suffered a setback that could keep him out for the rest of the season. Goodwin, 26, was a revelation this season, helping the Nationals overcome a bevy of injuries to outfielders. The former first-round pick batted .251 with an .811 OPS and 13 home runs in 74 games before straining his groin on Aug. 14.
“It’s looking tough because we don’t have a whole bunch of time left,” Nationals Manager Dusty Baker said. “We don’t know yet. We needed a body and they were probably going to put him on the 40-man next year anyway.”
To make room for Robles on the 40-man roster, the Nationals transferred right-hander Erick Fedde to the 60-day disabled list. They also recalled outfielder Andrew Stevenson and Rafael Bautista, both of whom, along with Robles, will seemingly compete for the postseason roster spot Goodwin would’ve occupied.
Robles, highly regarded for his five-tool potential at a premium position, signed with the Nationals out of the Dominican Republic for $225,000 as a 16-year-old in 2013. He rapidly became one of baseball’s most intriguing prospects and was a consensus top-10 prospect across baseball by midseason, making him nearly untouchable in trade talks as he solidified himself as one of the franchise’s future pillars.
He split his season with Class A Potomac and Harrisburg. In 114 games between the two levels, the center fielder batted .300 with an .875 OPS, 10 home runs, and 27 steals in 37 attempts. He will make the jump to the majors without playing a game at Class AAA, which is not unprecedented for Nationals prospects. He made his majorn league debut immedialte, flying out to right field as a pinch hitter in the seventh inning of the Nationals’ 4-3 win Thursday.
“I’ve gotten a lot better on defense, with my batting,” said Robles, who appeared in Grapefruit League games during spring training. “I’ve been surrounded by a lot of guys with a lot of experience and I’ve learned a lot from them.”
With Stevenson and Bautista also joining the club, the Nationals are crowded in the outfield while simultaneously seeking to give Jayson Werth at-bats to rediscover his rhythm after missing nearly three months with a fractured foot, which could limit Robles’s playing time.
“First, you got to kind of earn your stripes,” Baker said. “You’re here to learn more than you are here to play. We’re not a tryout. This is a reward to get called up and as a September call-up, I’m calling to play you when I need you. Whether it’s pinch run, pinch hit. I’ll try — try — to get him a start or two.”
Calling Robles up also starts his service time clock, which could have an impact on his Super Two status — Super Two players play three seasons at the league minimum salary and four at arbitration prices while non-Super Two players play four seasons at the league minimum salary and three at arbitration rates. But the Nationals decided having Robles for the stretch run as they prepare for their fourth playoff appearance in six years was worth it.
“I heard he’s a heck of a player,” Baker said. “I also heard there’s some fundamental things that he needs to learn. Like some baserunning, throwing to the right base. Different things. That’s what we’re here for, to teach him and hopefully he’s a quick learner, which I heard he is. And a tremendous talent.”
Trea Turner SS
Wilmer Difo 3B
Daniel Murphy 2B
Ryan Zimmerman 1B
Adam Lind LF
Michael A. Taylor CF
Matt Wieters C
Alejandro De Aza RF
Tanner Roark RHP
Cesar Hernandez 2B
Freddy Galvis SS
Odubel Herrera CF
Rhys Hoskins LF
Nick Williams RF
Tommy Joseph 1B
J.P. Crawford 3B
Jorge Alfaro C
Aaron Nola RHP
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