WASHINGTON — The Washington Nationals welcomed top prospect Victor Robles to the team on Thursday, with skipper Dusty Baker citing his “tremendous talent” as the reason for his promotion.
What he’s missing might be the more profound part of Baker’s description.
“I heard he is a heck of a player,” Baker said. “I also heard there are some fundamental things that he needs to learn like some baserunning, throwing to the right base, different things. That’s what we’re here to teach him. Hopefully, he’s a quick learner, which I heard he is.”
The Nationals need to hope so.
Baker has a history of downplaying a young player’s skill set when they first arrive, as he did repeatedly with Trea Turner in 2016. It’s unclear if that is intended to degrade expectations from fans and the media, take pressure off or challenge the player to perform at a higher level, or some combination of the two. Either way, it works for Baker.
“I know he’s one of the top prospects here. He might’ve been the man where he came from, but you’re like a little freshman. You got to earn your stripes to get back to the man situation,” Baker explained. “We’ll use him in a situation where I think he can handle. I try to use them all a situation where they might have best chance to succeed and help us win, not put him in a situation to embarrass the kid.”
The degrees of embarrassment are pretty varied.
Baserunning is a skill that every player needs to develop, as pitchers and catchers are significantly better at controlling the running game at the Major League level. But throwing to right base? That’s typically something that is handled in amateur baseball and the low end of the minor league system.
If nothing else, it should be honed at the developmental fall and winter leagues, which is actually where Robles was prepared to go this week before he got the call.
“The original plan was for me to head to instructional league and prepare for the Arizona Fall League,” Robles told the media through an interpreter. “I was on my way to do that. Yesterday morning, I got the phone call. I am very blessed about the opportunity. It was a great feeling to be known that I was getting called up to the big leagues.”