The dust appears to be finally settling on the Bryce Harper bonanza that became the 2018-19 offseason. Something of a slap in the face to the Nationals, that their initial offer of 10 years and $300 Million is what Harper’s free agency rival, Manny Machado, accepted to play ball for the Padres. But apparently, Bryce believed then (and still does) that somewhere in the league is a team who will pay him even more than that.
For all intents and purposes though, Washington is officially out of the running for the 2015 NL MVP. Surprisingly however, the Nats seem to be a better built and more cohesive unit rolling into the new campaign regardless of them parting ways with their beloved superstar. They added great production in key roles, like Patrick Corbin (an ace for most squads) to pitch third in their rotation, and Brian Dozier to lock down second base with solid glove work and a better bat than he brought to the table in 2018.
Most importantly though, with Harper’s departure, opportunity has emerged in the Nationals’ outfield where quite a few break out candidates already lurk. I genuinely considered giving the nod to Adam Eaton here, likely shifting back over to Right Field in Harper’s place due to his uncommonly strong arm, he has been hampered by relentless injuries since joining the Nationals in 2017. So simply by playing in more games, and being the dynamic table setter the Nationals hoped he’d be when they acquired him a few years ago, he has All-Star/Breakthrough potential written all over him. I’m also quite partial to last year’s break out stud, Left Fielder Juan Soto. He had the best statistical season by a teenager in baseball history in 2018, despite the fact that he didn’t debut in the bigs till May. Considering the fact that he walks into this season at just 20 years old, and already garnering attention as the Nats’ biggest offensive star, there’s somehow even more room to grow. Even just marginal improvement on his game will net him an All-Star appearance in 2019, and if he manages to eclipse the .300 batting average & 30 home run threshold (.292 & 22 last season) at his age, he’ll cement himself in the discussion for best players in baseball for the next decade-plus.
But ultimately, I’m attracted to Washington’s shiny new toy. Victor Robles has been heralded by many as one of the most exciting and charismatic prospects of the last decade. He made his debut as a 19 year old as well back in 2017, but unlike Soto, he didn’t stick right away. Last year, he got into a few more games at the major league level, but his early season injury is actually what got him passed over by Soto for the starting outfield job…think about that. So with a wide open Center Field job, and the Nationals’ spending effectively done now that we’ve inched our way into Spring Training, Robles is about to get the job handed to him with no resistance.
To Robles’ credit he’s a very different player than Soto, and despite seemingly endless pressure to preform at the same level, all indications are that he’s handling himself quite well. Robles’ game is focused more on his ability to put the ball in play and use his incredible speed as a game changer. His bat won’t yield excessive power, but he has the potential to be a perennial contender for the hit crown and stolen base lead. Add to that his heart and hustle on the defensive end, and his tools will allow him to be an impact player from day one. Contrary to the prototypical power-bat rookie who will need time to adjust to the bigs, Robles’ athleticism-driven game is more of a given and easily established commodity early and often. Where as a guy like Soto needs to crush the ball to be effective, Robles can hit a weak ground ball on the infield and beat it out for a hit. So I expect him to breakout early and often for DC.