Many fans have responded to the news that the Nats are being asked for Victor Robles in exchange for Andrew McCutchen with knee-jerk predictability. "HE'S ONE OF OUR TOP PROSPECTS!!! UNTOUCHABLE!!!!" It's not just a Nats fans thing. That is pretty much guaranteed to be said about any team's Top 1-3 guys in the system when brought up in trade talks. We overvalue our own and assume that because they are the top guys in our system that they are future major leaguers just waiting for their big break. It's usually not true.
But that doesn't mean it's always not true! Someone has to be the major leaguers of tomorrow. The question is - is Robles that? And if so, what kind of major leaguer is he likely to be?
Much like when we looked at Giolito about a year ago, I like to look at why exactly we are excited by Robles and how other players who hit same points turned out. So why are we excited by Robles? Sure he's got the tools, etc. but "tools, etc." doesn't get you talked about like you could be a Top 10 prospect. You need production to go along with it. We are excited because as a 19 year old Robles put up a .305 / .405 / .459 line in class A ball. That is a young age for class A, so being that good is basically a flashing sign saying "this kid might be special". But how special? Well let's look at all the guys at age 19* who put up a .850 or higher OPS in the Sally** league and what happened to them
KJ Woods - terrible in A+ in 2016, but didn't hit before 2015 so not really comparable to Robles or almost everyone on this list
Austin Meadows - would hit immediately in A+ ball in 2015, then hit in AA at the end of same year. Hit in AA to start 2016. Not great in AAA but injured. Expected to be a major leaguer in 2017
Ryan McMahon - hit in A+ ball in 2015. Did not hit in AA in 2016.
Chance Sisco - 2015 hit a little worse in A+ ball, a little worse that that in AA ball. 2016 Hit well in AA. Catcher who should help part of 2017
Joey Gallo - What did happen to Joey Gallo? He CRUSHED in A ball at 19. 38 homers! 2014 - CRUSHED A+ ball. Powered through AA. 2015 CRUSHED AA, struggled mightily in AAA. Got ML time, didn't hit. 2016 Good in AAA. An unimpressive cup of coffee in Texas. Will probably get a big chuck of time in majors in 2017 to see where he's at. Fun prospect with ELITE power.
Nick Williams - 2014 hit well enough in A+ ball to get a AA trial. Failed. 2015 AA went much better. 2016 did just ok in AAA. Not quite a KJ Woods type, but not with other real prospects here, either
Alen Hanson - KJ Woods type. Been moved up to do it but never really hit all that great. Looks like a AAA guy.
Trevor Story - Stepped back in 2013 but then got it in 2014... then struggled in AA. But then adapted in 2015 and was a good starter for Colorado in 2016.
Gary Sanchez - didn't hit like that again until 2015 but hit well enough to get moved along, given he's a catcher. Hit well in AAA in 2016. Performance upon call-up to majors shockingly good. Will see a lot of playing time in 2017 to see how fluky that was.
Johnathan Schoop - moved up and basically made an Oriole in 2014 just because, not because he earned it. Struggled terribly in 2014. A fair major leaguer in 2015/6.
Christian Yelich - never stopped hitting. Also reached majors in 2013 but deserved to. Hit fairly well in majors before breaking out in 2016.
Nolan Arenando - hit in 2011 but not in AA in 2012, but after an impressive Fall League got a AAA shot in 2013 was killing it so got a major league shot hasn't looked back. Not as good offensively as you might think (Coors you know) but a very good major leaguer
One thing should be flat out obvious. Victor Robles is not helping the 2017 Nats. Victor Robles is very very likely not helping the 2018 Nats either. That's the case across the board here. If he were an 18 year old maybe you look for immediate fast impact - the names there are Bryce, Stanton, Freeman, Machado, Heyward. But he's not so you don't. So we're looking at the 2019 Nats for the likely earliest time Robles will be up and helping the Nats offensively. And that's an optimistic projection. More likely is that it'll be 2020 or so before he really develops.
The second thing is that a lot of these guys are big power big K guys. Robles is an average and patience guy. On one hand that's great. The strikeout issue is the sticking point for many a great minor leaguer who can't hack it in the majors. That shouldn't be an issue for Robles. On the other hand, that's not great. The power is what makes players special. If Robles can't develop it then his impact on the future Nats is limited.
Since we hit a lot of decent players right at the end there I went back and looked at a few more years and they were more like 2012 on than 2010/2011. A mixed bag at best. That's not to say Robles can't develop, just that a very good 19 year A-ball season doesn't mean all that much when it comes to major league success. I think what will be telling for Victor is what we see in 2017. The true flame-outs seemed to all quickly drop back into not hitting. If Victor does that - well then he might be a flameout. (might) If he keeps hitting then I'd seriously doubt that a flameout is in his future.
But still we're talking flameouts here. Guys that never make the majors or barely play. A guy good enough to just make the majors on the bench or to be a blah starter for a couple years shouldn't be enough to hold up a trade. Is that what Robles is likely to be? My guess, and I stress guess, is no. I think he's better than that. But I see him as a .280 slap hitter with patience in 2020. If he's got great speed and defense still at that point, then there's a lot of value there. A leadoff hitter, CF for cheap for 6 years. If he doesn't then he's just a line-up piece. A 3rd/4th OF who you play because he saves the ton of money you need to get much better at his position. Where you fall here matters, but also consider the time frame. Where will the Nats be in 2020? Do you think Max and Stras will still be dealing? That Rendon and Roark will still be here and good?
Keeping Robles is betting on 2020 being a time where Robles being a very good leadoff type matters. I don't see myself making that bet. I'm sorry. Not because I think the Nats will be bad then, but because I understand I have no idea how the Nats will be by then and keeping a Robles type for the giant question mark fog of four years down the road seems silly to me. If you don't like Cutch fine. Don't trade for him. But don't let it be Robles that holds you up.
*Remember age is super impt here so 18 year olds and 20 year olds need not apply.
**Remember league is super impt here too. Some leagues are super hitter friendly. The Sally isn't one of those though.