- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 31, 2017

HARRISBURG, Penn. — Cross the bridge then wind into the parking lots to arrive at the baseball stadium on an island. Kickball leagues operate in an adjacent field and Susquehanna River tours are available down the street behind home plate. The T-shirt Gatling gun fires cotton projectiles into the stands in the middle of the second inning. Cheap seats in left field are $9 before the game and $10 day of. Bring cash for the food booth outside.

In center field at FNB Field for the Double-A Harrisburg Senators is Victor Robles. He is 20, has the smooth silhouette that insinuates his high-end speed and a gold rope chain that matches the bravado he operates with. Robles is the Washington Nationals’ top position prospect. He’s closing the season in Pennsylvania on a 17-game hitting streak, making everyone wonder when he will be arriving in the District, and just how that will influence the Nationals’ coming plans.

Robles says he doesn’t think about it. It’s out of his control, he says through interpreter Mario Lisson, a Senators teammate currently on the disabled list. In manager Matt LeCroy’s chilled, cramped office, Robles sits on a worn couch and uses the proper answer that should be dispatched when projecting a personal future to a reporter.

“He tries not to think about it,” Lisson explains. “That’s out of his control. What he can control is to go out there and play hard every day, wherever he’s at. Really doesn’t think about it much.”

If that is true, Robles is among the few who isn’t thinking about the next level for him. His speed and surge since being moved from Single-A Potomac to Double-A Harrisburg on July 24 have only reinforced what was thought of him prior. The recent reduction of prominent names in the Nationals’ minor-league system has increased the focus on Robles and pitcher Erick Fedde. Lucas Giolito, so long the next this and that, is in Chicago, along with Reynaldo Lopez. No one played well at Triple-A Syracuse this season. It’s Robles’ movement that will be tracked first until he shows it shouldn’t be.

Because of his stature, Robles was attached to any rumor that would deliver impact players to the Nationals at the trade deadline. He saw his name flash by on social media. He gave another workmanlike answer about the circumstance.

“He said he doesn’t really pay attention to it very much,” Lisson said. “Right now, he is with the Nationals, so he’ll play with the Nationals. If something happens, he will go play wherever he has to.”

A new language has been the biggest challenge for Robles since he came to the United States from Santo Domingo Este, Dominican Republic, in 2015 to debut in the Gulf Coast League.

Minor-league fastballs, off-speed pitches, handling himself with two strikes, those things have been taken care of since Robles moved into the country and went from the GCL to a trio of stops in Single A before arriving in Harrisburg.

His 17-game hitting streak for the Senators is the sixth-longest in the organization’s history. Like most minor-league success, it’s not an assurance of stardom. Cliff Floyd, Jalal Leach, Michael Barrett and Jesus Feliciano are the other players in organization history to have an equivalent streak. Floyd was named an All-Star once. Leach had 10 major-league at-bats. Barrett spent 12 seasons in the majors and Feliciano made 119 plate appearances with the New York Mets in 2010, when he was 31 years old.

But, Robles’ run over the last two weeks shows he has adjusted. His average at Harrisburg dipped to .242 Aug. 10. He had vaulted it to .320 by first pitch on Thursday night.

“I just think he’s realizing what people are trying to do to him,” LeCroy said. “We’ve faced some pretty good pitchers that have some pretty good off-speed that will be in the big leagues at some point. He’s done a good job of laying off of that, which I thought would give him trouble when he first got here.”

There’s another thing discernible about Robles: an air of self-confidence. Those who are around the Senators daily, including LeCroy, tactfully describe how Robles carries himself. He’s self-assured, but not egotistical. LeCroy compared him to a young Bryce Harper in both style and all-out running approach. LeCroy, a former major leaguer who was the bullpen coach during Matt Williams’ two seasons in Washington, is not put off by it, though it may draw looks from others. It’s the opposite.

“I think he’s got some leadership ability to him,” LeCroy said. “He’s really passionate when he plays. He’s got a little style to him. I think he understands he has a chance to be really good. He’s not arrogant, but he’s got that confident look to him that he’ll compete with anybody and he’s not afraid of that competition. To me, that’s going to benefit him.

“I think some of the things he does rub some people the wrong way at times. But, you know what, he’ll learn what’s right and what’s wrong just like Harp did. I like it. I’d rather have a guy you got to tame him a little bit than a guy that you got to knock on the butt a little bit to get him going. He’s not that guy. He comes to play every night and compete. We’re here to teach him as quick as we can.”

Robles is learning the other layers to playing in the Futures Game this summer and being the No. 5 prospect on MLB Pipeline top 100 list. People wants his autograph. Radio stations want to talk to him. Though he just arrived, he’s suddenly at the forefront of a team, at least to the public. LeCroy has encouraged him to do interviews. For anyone expecting to make it to the major leagues, those PR minor-league reps have a benefit in addition to the ones in the batter’s box.

“I think he needs to have it as part of his routine,” LeCroy said.

In his first at-bat Thursday, Robles singled hard to left. As he ran up the first base line, he pointed with his right arm and index finger, in the manner Jayson Werth might if he delivered a walkoff hit. At first base, he clasped his hands and shook them thankfully toward the sky before stealing second without a throw. The night was his last home game in Harrisburg this season — perhaps Robles’ last in Pennsylvania, period. He goes to the Arizona Fall League, which starts Oct. 10, next. There, more of the same will come for Robles. A focus on him, questions about how soon he will be in the majors and what he will mean for the Nationals’ future plans.

• Todd Dybas can be reached at tdybas@washingtontimes.com.

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