- The Washington Times - Monday, October 2, 2017

In the three weeks since Victor Robles was called up, he has done little to merely slip into the background as a 20-year-old rookie. His speed has been eye-opening despite its mighty reputation before his arrival. Robles has fought against major-league off-speed pitches. He’s been demonstrative on the bases and when entering the field, the same way he was in the minor leagues.

Robles has worked himself into the conversation for the final spot on the postseason roster, though the Nationals‘ top prospect also showed holes since his surprise call-up in September. He has unlikely competition, too. Nationals manager Dusty Baker said last week that outfielder Brian Goodwin will join the team this week to participate in workouts. The Nationals are off Monday, then have workouts scheduled for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday before starting the National League Division Series at 7:31 p.m. Friday night at Nationals Park.

In addition to Goodwin, Alejandro De Aza is a candidate for the final spot on the 25-man postseason roster, which can be changed from round to round.

Let’s start with Robles. He hit .250, struck out six times and walked none in 27 major-league plate appearances. In that time, Baker was watching multiple things when assessing Robles: Did he chase bad off-speed pitches? Did he make the right fundamental throw from the outfield? Was he alert and aware when the game sped up defensively?

Since Robles‘ primary role on the postseason roster would be to run and play defense, with pinch-running the No. 1 reason to add him, he did little to hurt his case during the 13 games he played. On the bench, he was a noticeable cheerleader. On the bases, he flew, whether that was blistering his way to a triple faster than Trea Turner has or nearly stealing his first major-league base. Robles was ruled out after he came off the bag for a split-second following his slide, taking away a sure-to-come first for him.

“He hadn’t had any missing-the-cutoff-man situations, other than yesterday’s sliding past second base,” Baker said. “Last year, Trea did that a number of times. So far, he’s done nothing but impress us. There’s a few things that I see that are going to need to improve over time. But, I can’t tell you what that is.”

Robles has moved from giddy to comfortable. He refers to the majors as the “league I play in now,” a statement he made through team interpreter Octavio Martinez.

“The biggest thing is to learn from the veteran guys, be a sponge, pickup as much as I can,” Robles said. “We have a lot of great players, a lot of veterans here and I feel like my whole focus when I got called up was to learn as much as I can from everyone, especially the veterans here.”

According to the Web site Fangraphs, Robles swings at pitches inside the strike zone 67.4 percent of the time. For comparison, with the large caveat of gap in sample size, Jayson Werth swung at strikes 52.5 percent of the time this season; Daniel Murphy 65 percent. Robles feels the way he has been pitched shows the opposition is not just thoughtlessly throwing to a kid.

“They make me feel almost like a veteran because it doesn’t seem like they treat me like a rookie,” Robles said. “They go and attack me and have a purpose, a gameplan against me. I feel like they have a gameplan of how to execute and how to pitch to me.”

At the end of the minor-league season, a handful of days before he was called up, Robles said he was not focused on when his call-up may happen, whether it was this year or next or beyond. He took a slightly different tact when talking about the possibility of making the postseason roster.

“It’s a little bit of a goal,” Robles said. “Get called up to a team that’s playing for the postseason, it would be great as a first-year player, rookie to make that roster. But my whole focus since I’ve been called up is … to showcase my skills on the field, then either way whether I make the postseason roster or not, I’m very grateful and very fortunate that they’ve given me the opportunity to come up here and play. That’s all I can do is control what I can control.”

The makeup of the Nationals‘ bench beckons for someone with Robles‘ skills. Adam Lind and Howie Kendrick are below-average outfielders and mediocre infielders, though swing a potent bat. Jose Lobaton will be the backup catcher. Wilmer Difo can play as the utility infielder and presents one pinch-running option. That’s four and leaves a spot for a swift outfielder, plus possibly a third catcher.

Goodwin has not played a major-league game since straining his groin Aug. 13. At one point, Goodwin seemed assured of his season being ended by the injury. Instead, he has been working out in the Instructional League at the Nationals‘ spring training home in West Palm Beach, Florida. Goodwin was having his best season prior to the injury. He had an .811 OPS in 74 games.

Another option is the 33-year-old De Aza. He hit just .194 since joining the Nationals for 28 games this season. However, he hit .333 for the Baltimore Orioles in the 2014 playoffs.

“It’s something that every player wants to be into,” De Aza said. “You work the whole season to try to get postseason. It is a great experience and … I don’t know what to say. It’s the greatest thing, you know?”

Compiled, that information suggests Robles has a strong chance to make the postseason roster. Should it happen, that decision would cap a transitional month for him. He went from Double-A Harrisburg and T-shirts cannons, to the major leagues, then possibly onto the postseason roster instead of off to the desolation of the Arizona Fall League, which begins Oct. 10. Keeping him around would continue his run in the spotlight.


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