Victor Robles, the top prospect in the Washington Nationals minor league system, was called up to the big league club this week, and got his first major league start this afternoon, against the Phillies. Robles is considered one of the top prospects in all of baseball, and he’s rocketed up through the minors mostly by being aggressive at everything, all the time.
Last month, Noah Frank of WTOP talked some about a troubling part of Robles’s impressive on-base numbers—namely, that Robles gets hit by a lot of pitches. Like, really, a lot of pitches:
Let’s put Robles’ anomalous numbers into some historical context. At the Major League level, nobody has been hit more than 34 times in a season since Craig Biggio in 1997, 20 years ago. That was by far Biggio’s highest HBP season (next highest was 28 in 2001), for one of the most frequently hit players in baseball history.
Robles was hit 34 times in just 110 games last year, and has been plunked at least 20 times in every season in which he’s played 60 or more games.
Biggio led the league in HBP five times, and was plunked 285 times in his career, ranking second on the all-time list. That shakes out to being hit once every 43.9 plate appearances.
Robles has been hit once every 15.9 plate appearances thus far in his minor league career, close to three times Biggio’s rate.
This isn’t an idle concern: Robles is penciled in as either Washington’s center fielder of the future, or Washington’s left fielder of the future, or (if Bryce Harper breaks my heart and becomes a Yankee) Washington’s right fielder of the future. Washington’s farm system has been thinned out in win-now trades and through promotions—Victor Robles, right now, is the jewel of their developmental pipeline, a pipeline that is otherwise a little on the dry side.
And the Nationals have been among the most hurt teams in baseball this season, with their outfield being hit particularly hard. The spot in the lineup is available today because all of Bryce Harper, Adam Eaton, and Jayson Werth are dealing with injuries. The other thrilling young Nationals turk, Trea Turner, already missed a month after breaking a bone in his hand via a hit-by-pitch. The Nationals don’t need this shit!
Which makes what happened in the fourth inning today, in Robles’s second career plate appearance, on the fifth pitch of his major league career, all the more unsettling:
Robles smoked an RBI double in his next at-bat, for his first career hit. Young man! Protect yourself!