Robles, Soto give Nats OF tandem to dream on
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Victor Robles and Juan Soto were born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, a little more than one year apart. They rank among the top 30 prospects in baseball, according to MLB Pipeline -- Robles at No. 6, Soto at No. 29. They were signed by the same Nationals scout, Modesto Ulloa.
Three times this spring, Robles and Soto have appeared for the Nationals in the same Grapefruit League game. Monday's 5-4 win over the Tigers was the latest. Robles went 0-for-3 but made a sublime shoestring catch in right field. Soto replaced him in right and drove in two runs, with a double and bases-loaded walk.
Afterward, Robles was asked how often he and Soto daydream about playing alongside one another at Nationals Park -- Robles in center, Soto in one of the corners.
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"We've always talked about it," Robles said through interpreter Octavio Martinez. "We've always said, 'In three or four years, if we keep doing our thing, we'll be up there together, side by side.' We do talk about that a lot."
They may not have to wait that long, Robles is told.
"I hope so," he said, in perfect English.
The anticipation surrounding Robles, 20, and Soto, 19, is a welcome counterbalance for the uncertainty among Nationals fans regarding Bryce Harper's potential free agency following this season. In one sense, Robles has arrived already: He played in 13 regular-season games for the Nationals last year and two more in the postseason.
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Thus Robles became the youngest position player to appear in at least two games in a single postseason since Harper and Manny Machado in 2012.
How "nervous" was Robles during the National League Division Series?
"That's one of those words I don't use in my vocabulary too often," he replied. "I don't believe in that. I feel like it's one of those words that can backfire on you. I don't think too much about it. I just go out, try to perform and help my team win any way I can."
Clearly, he's confident. And Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said Robles is calmer than he was one year ago, too.
"After being a [20-year-old] on the playoff roster, the game doesn't move as fast for him anymore," Rizzo said in a Monday telephone interview. "His skill set is immense. He's fairly refined for his age and his time in pro baseball. He seems like one of those guys who has a slow heartbeat that really takes his time and is not overwhelmed by the atmosphere."
Rizzo described Robles as "a special defender, a Gold Glove-type center fielder." Yet there's a good chance Robles will begin the regular season at Triple-A Syracuse. The Nationals believe outfielders Adam Eaton and Michael A. Taylor will recover from their injuries in time to make the Opening Day lineup, and the team doesn't want Robles to lose developmental time by playing part-time in the Majors.
"He'd have to be playing every day," Rizzo said. "He's going to play every day somewhere. If circumstances happen -- through injuries or that type of thing -- where he could play every day, we wouldn't feel bad about bringing him to the big leagues. But he's going to play somewhere, whether that's the big leagues or Triple-A."
Asked if he understands the value in returning to the Minors, Robles said, "I see it as a move the team has to make. That's their decision. I don't control any of that or have a say in it. All I can control is how I perform: Keep playing hard, keep playing well and prove to them I belong up here."
Rizzo said Soto could handle the Class A Advanced level to begin the season, but he will "probably" start at Class A Hagerstown because of an injury-shortened 2017 season. Soto was much more polished than a typical 19-year-old in Monday's two plate appearances. Nationals manager Dave Martinez said he was more impressed by Soto's run-producing walk in the ninth inning than his double the inning before.
"I really was," Martinez said. "That's a big moment. He was laying off tough pitches. That's pretty impressive."
Relearning the rules
Dave Martinez took away one positive from starter Edwin Jackson's turbulent third inning on Monday: He was able to see how Jackson and catcher Pedro Severino negotiated a high-stress inning without relying on multiple mound visits, in accordance with new MLB rules.
"We've talked about that -- when to go, when not to go," Martinez said. "It's going to change the game. You actually get to learn more about pitchers this way. You watch them work out of jams on their own."
Murphy on track
Rizzo said he's "cautiously optimistic" that second baseman Daniel Murphy will be in the Nationals' Opening Day lineup. Murphy, 32, took on-field batting practice on Monday at Ballpark of the Palm Beaches for a second consecutive day. Murphy has yet to play a game this spring after undergoing right knee microfracture surgery in October.
Harper, Trea Turner and Anthony Rendon are among the Nationals regulars expected to be in the lineup for Tuesday's 7:05 p.m. ET meeting with a split Mets squad at FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. Ace Max Scherzer will face Zack Wheeler in a game airing on MLB.TV as well as MASN locally and MLB Network nationally.