In something of a surprise move, the Washington Nationals have called up 20-year-old center fielder Victor Robles from Double-A. Robles spent most of the season at the High-A level, having only played at Double-A since late July. Robles lacks experience against big-league-caliber pitching, but met basically every challenge at the lower levels this year, hitting an outstanding .300/.382/.493 with 27 steals. You’d be hard-pressed to find many batting lines better and more well rounded than Robles’. He hits for average, hits for power, and is a weapon on the bases. Oh, and he’s also an elite center fielder who was worth 15 runs above average this year according to Clay Davenport’s numbers.
If you’re looking for any signs of weakness with Robles, his plate discipline is a candidate. He struck out in 17% of his plate appearances in the minors and walked in 7%, which are both league-average-ish marks. Granted, there’s nothing wrong with average strikeout and walk numbers, particularly when everything else is off the charts. But keep in mind that those figures were recorded mostly against A-ball pitching and are likely to worsen against big leaguers.
My KATOH system pegs Robles for 8.7 WAR over his first six seasons by the stats-only method and 12.5 WAR by KATOH+, which incorporates his No. 8 midseason ranking from Baseball America. (Eric Longenhagen also ranked him No. 8 over the summer.) Robles’ KATOH projections place him 26th and 13th among prospects.
To put some faces to Robles’ statistical profile, I calculated a Mahalanobis distance between Robles’ 2017 performance and every High-A and Double-A season since 1991. In the table below, you’ll find the 10 most similar seasons, ranked from most to least similar. The WAR totals refer to each player’s first six seasons in the major leagues. Please note that the Mahalanobis analysis is separate from KATOH. KATOH relies on macro-level trends, rather than comps. The fates of a few statistically similar players shouldn’t be used to draw sweeping conclusions about a prospect’s future. For this reason, I recommend using a player’s KATOH forecast to assess his future potential. The comps give us some interesting names that sometimes feel spot-on, but they’re mostly just there for fun.
Robles’ talent is obvious. He’s a very good hitter with great speed and is already an elite defensive center fielder, which makes him one of the best prospects in baseball. Whether he’s ready for the show right now is less clear: Steamer sees him as an 89 wRC+ hitter today, partly due to his aforementioned non-elite plate discipline. But it will be exciting to what see a player with his talent can do against big-league pitching.