Washington outfielder emerging as top prospect in lower levels
Victor Robles has a .959 OPS in his Minor League career. (Rick Nelson/MiLB.com)
By Jake Seiner / MiLB.com | July 30, 2015 10:15 AM
There are a lot of phenomenal athletes in the lower levels of Minor League Baseball, and quite a few of them are performing well. No prospect has combined athleticism with performance this season like Nationals outfielder Victor Robles, though.
Just 18 years old, the Dominican opened the year ranked 15th in Washington's farm system, but after playing just 31 games this season, he's alreadyjumped to eighth.
From a tools perspective, it's easy to understand the excitement. Robles has five-tool potential, starting with his wheels. Listed at 6-foot, 185 pounds, he can fly. MLB.com put a 70 grade on his speed, and it's easy to see from his stolen base numbers that he knows how to use that. The speed also helps him cover a lot of ground in center, and he has above average arm strength, too.
At the plate, he grades out well with his hit and power tools. MLB.com wrote, "He has an advanced approach at the plate and projects to be able to hit for average and power as he physically matures."
So we know Robles checks the boxes for scouts, but it's his performance that should have Nats fans drooling.
It's tough to have much professional track record as an 18-year-old baseball player, but Robles has been the top performer on just about every field he's seen thus far. In the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League in 2014, he batted .313 with three homers in 47 games. He had nearly as many stolen bases (22) as strikeouts (26) and finished 11th in the league with an .891 OPS.
The performance earned Robles a trip to the United States for the 2015 season, and he opened with the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Nationals when the short-season leagues kicked began. He lasted just 23 games in the GCL, posting a 1.045 OPS with two homers and 12 steals. He accrued nearly as many walks (10) as strikeouts (12).
And so he was promoted again, this time to the Class A Short Season New York-Penn League. Since joining Auburn, Robles is hitting .357 with a 1.023 OPS in 10 games.
Even better, Robles has been fantastic in the categories that matter most. Chris Mitchell has recently posted extensive research at The Hardball Times and Fangraphs using Minor League statistics to predict Major League success. In the lowest levels of the Minor Leagues, three data points in particular have a strong correlation with future MLB successes -- age, strikeout percentage and isolated power.
As you can see in the table below, Robles has stood out in each of these areas, checking in at nearly a full standard deviation or better compared to each level's other qualified hitters in most categories.
So we're talking about a player who looks the part, with speed, power and a feel for the game. And we're also talking about a player who's been far better than the competition in his pro career and always done so as one of the youngest and most inexperienced players at his level. Combine those factors, and it's tough not to see Robles as one of the Minors' most exciting youngsters.
Rangers OF Lewis Brinson, Class A Advanced High Desert: Brinson has boasted one of the Minor League's highest ceilings since Texas took him 29th overall in the 2012 Draft, but up until this season, his odds of approaching it seemed long. He struck out in 38 percent of his at-bats with Class A Hickory in 2013, raising major questions about his approach. He addressed that in a big way last year, cutting his strikeout rate to 25 percent, and he's been even better this year, posting a 21 percent strikeout rate. He has legitimate five-tool potential, with each category except the hit tool grading at least above average for his entire pro career. Now, it looks like his hit tool could approach average, too, and if that happens, Brinson could be a budding superstar in the mold of Mike Cameron or Adam Jones.
Red Sox SS Marco Hernandez, Triple-A Pawtucket : Hernandez has added some strength and emerged as a solid contributor on both sides of the ball with Boston this season. He hit .326 with five homers in 68 games with Double-A Portland before getting a promotion to the International League earlier this month, and he's hit .273 with a .698 OPS through 12 games with the PawSox. Hernandez should be average or better defensive at short in the Majors, so he won't have to hit a ton to justify a roster spot, and he could sneak into regular playing time at short if the opportunity ever arises.
...And one not
Rangers 3B Joey Gallo, Triple-A Round Rock: The Minor League's top power-hitting prospect has seen his numbers tumble since he was dumped off the big league roster and into the Pacific Coast League. Gallo has five homers in 23 games, but he's also struck out 37 times and posted a lackluster .184 average. His struggles don't reveal a whole lot about his future utility -- we all already knew he'd strike out a lot and struggle to keep up his batting average -- but Rangers fans were likely hoping for better during the 21-year-old's first trip through Triple-A.
Jake Seiner is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Jake_Seiner.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.