This off-season saw the Nationals move on from Bryce Harper, opting instead for other in-house options. The decision was made, in large part, due to the breakout of rookie Juan Soto in 2018. Another top ten (most would argue top five) prospect—Victor Robles—is ready to show his stuff as the center fielder in 2019.
Looking at the Nationals’ outfield last season, Harper was of course a large part of the equation, coming in at a 3.5 fWAR and slugging 25 homers with a wRC+ of 135—not easy numbers to replace.
Juan Soto, however, was as good (if not better) than Harper last year, and at just 19 years old. Soto had a 3.7 fWAR in 201 less plate appearances, stroking 22 homers along the way. With Soto established as this year’s left fielder, expectations are even higher heading into 2019, with various projections listed at Fangraphs calling for anywhere from a 4.2 to 5.1 fWAR for Soto in year two.
Robles is the player Washington is banking on as a difference maker this year, in their bid to compete post-Harper. Robles has had two cups of coffee in the big leagues, totaling 93 plate appearances over the last two seasons. In that small sample size, Robles has slashed .277/.337/.506 for an .843 OPS.
While 93 plate appearances is a very small sample size, Robles has a heck of a minor league track record as well. In 1,699 career minor league plate appearances, he’s slashed .300/.392/.457, racking up 28 homers and 129 steals.
Robles’ speed translates well to center field, where he’ll play this year for Washington. He played 95 innings (over a span of 14 games, 10 of those being starts) in center field for the Nats last year, with a UZR/150 of 9.0 and 1 DRS. Projecting his DRS to 150 games, he’d have saved 10.7 runs defensively, which would have placed him third in the NL among 2018’s qualified center fielders, trailing only Lorenzo Cain and Ender Inciarte.
Robles won’t likely have the impact offensively that Soto had, and certainly will have less power. However, the defense he provides at a premium position, along with his other offensive skills, means Washington should have another Rookie of the Year candidate in the outfield.
What does all this mean for Washington’s Harper-less outfield? With Soto, Robles and Adam Eaton the starters, and Michael Taylor a capable fourth outfielder, the Nats should be in good shape. Last year, The combo of Harper, Soto, Eaton and Taylor combined for a total fWAR of 10.
Using Steamer to predict Soto (the safest projection of the bunch) we expect he will produce to the tune of a 4.2 fWAR in 2019. Staying with Steamer for Eaton, Taylor and Robles—we get projected fWAR’s of 2.2, 0.5 and 2.1, respectively. Based on these predictions, the foursome should combine for a 9 fWAR this year. That’s just one behind the aforementioned 10 fWAR from 2018.
Robles is off to a hot start this spring, picking up where he left off in 2018. Through his first 27 spring plate appearances, Robles is slashing .381/.481/.571 with 3 steals. For what it’s worth, I think Robles will have an OBP/SLG this year of something like .340/.440, adding up to a .780 OPS. The upside is there for an .800-plus, though.
The addition of Robles to the already excellent bat of Soto means Washington’s outfield shouldn’t miss a step in 2019. These kids are alright.