A Night with the P-Nats and Top Prospect Victor Robles and Manager Tripp Keister

Last night was the perfect opportunity to see Joan Baez pitch for the Potomac Nationals at Pfitzner Stadium in Woodbridge, Virginia. Baez worked at a good pace and turned in a good outing and worked himself out of some jams in his last 2 innings of work. You could see a lot of potential with this team in several aspects of the game, and standing there in the center of it all was the Nationals number one prospect–Victor Robles who is the team’s starting center fielder. There is also Taylor Gushue who is getting notoriety for all of his power and contrary to many opinions he was good behind the plate last night.

Behind 3 errors and only 4 hits, the Potomac Nationals fell last night to the Wilmington Blue Rocks 2-0 in the opener of a 4-game series.  The PNats had runners in scoring position in each of the first 3 innings, but were unable to bring them home, which proved costly on a cool night where offense was hard to find and these High-A players were a clutch hit or two from breaking the game open.

PNats starting pitcher Joan Baez went 5.2 innings and allowed 2 runs (1 earned) on 4 hits and 4 walks with 4 strikeouts.  He looked strong to start the night, giving up just one hit in the first three innings and fanning all four of his strikeout victims.  Second baseman DJ Burt reached on an error in the 1st inning, but was caught trying to steal second on a good throw from catcher Taylor Gushue.  Baez struggled after the 3rd, however the PNats were able to limit damage to just 2 runs, keeping them in the game.  Baez got out of a bases loaded jam in the 4th, and after a lead-off triple scored in the 5th, both walked batters were left stranded on the bases.  

Baez gave up an unearned run in the 6th after left fielder Roman Collins scored on a sac fly from centerfielder Cody Jones.  After the run, Baez came out of the game and was relieved by Kyle Schepel, who went 2.1 hitless innings, walking none and striking out 2.  Jorge Pantoja pitched the 9th, giving up just 1 hit with a strikeout.

“The challenge at this level is repeating your delivery and being consistent throughout…he’s in the starting rotation to continue to work on repeating his delivery, repeating his release point, repeating everything,” Potomac Nationals manager Tripp Keister said about Baez after the game.  “He did it for three innings.  It came out nice, and he threw strikes.  Breaking ball was for strikes, fastball was commanded, and then he loses that for a little bit.  Obviously, that’s what we’re working on.”

Keister is correct. Consistency and repeatable mechanics is the key not only for these pitchers and batters but players at every level. If you can’t repeat good mechanics then you will never make it past this level.

Offensively as mentioned, the PNats came out strong, getting runners in scoring position in each of the first three innings, however they were unable to capitalize on the early traffic on the bases.  Third baseman Kelvin Gutierrez went 2-4 with a single, double, stolen base, and 2 strikeouts.  Gushue was 1-2 with a single and 2 walks as the pitchers are well aware that he will hit a mistake pitch out of the park, and they pitched carefully to him and Gushue did not chase after pitches, rather he took what the game gave him and worked the two walks.  Shortstop Edwin Lora was 1-4 with a double and a strikeout.  And, in my favorite play of the game, leftfielder Jack Sundburg ended up on second after the Blue Rocks’ second baseman couldn’t handle a pop up.  This is why you run out all balls, kids.

Because I’m sure everyone is wondering, centerfielder Victor Robles was 0-4.  He took a little tumble in the 3rd inning after appearing to trip over the 1st baseman at the bag, and very gingerly walked to the dugout.  He must have rubbed some dirt on it, because he was out in centerfield to start the 4th and played in the rest of the game, running well both in the outfield and down the first base line. There was certainly that moment of angst and concern after the #1 prospect took that fall. Social media came alive as people were wondering if Robles was alright as I was live-tweeting the game.

Lora’s name has popped up as a player to watch as he develops in the farm system.  He had a throwing error in the 6th that resulted in the unearned run for Baez.  

“He’s a young kid, he makes those exciting plays, and then he made a play up the middle where he did an unbelievable job to get to the ball and then he threw it wide and allowed a run to score,” Keister said about Lora.  “It’s part of the process, you have to go through that sometimes, and stay positive and stay working, and he learns from those mistakes.  They have to go through that adversity and then learn.  So you make some mistakes here, we don’t want them making them when they go 20 miles north, that’s the point.  If he makes mistakes here, we work on them the next day.  That’s what we do, that’s our job, to get them ready to make those plays in DC when it counts.”

That was some sage advice from Keister who took over managing the P-Nats in 2014, and he understands his role at this level just like he did when he managed the Hagerstown Suns in 2012 and 2013. Keister was a collegiate coach at Wesley College and joined the Nationals organization in 2011 as the manager for the Gulf Coast League Nationals. Most of the current batch of top prospects and a few major leaguers have already been coached by Keister. For those who don’t know Keister, he was a lefty outfielder in the Mets organization and he is only 46-years-old. Being a former outfielder can only help in the maturation of Victor Robles so I also couldn’t pass up an opportunity to talk about the exciting young prospect outfielder when I had the manager’s ear.  Keister had great things to say about the rising star:

“He is a very special talent.  He can do anything on a baseball field, and he can do it very well.  He can run, he can hit, he can hit for power, he can throw, he can play defense, he can go get the ball in the outfield.  His instincts on the bases are some that … sometimes he does things where you shake your head because he’s that type of talent, and he’s doing all of that at a young age.  He’s 19 years old, and getting him to harness that ability and be more consistent and consistently bring that dynamic tool set that he has to the game is really where we are.”

If you were not counting, Keister named all five-tools in the affirmative and the present tense for Robles. There was no talk of “he will” rather it was “he can” and Keister said they’re always working with Robles on something, often small nuances of the game to help him better utilize the talent he has:

“Every day I’m with him talking about something, whether it’s a nuance of the game with base running, whether it’s something that happened yesterday, where he should maybe move over here.  Little things like that are going to help him.  He can outrun mistakes.  He can do things that others can’t do.  With that being said, he still needs to learn, he still needs to go through a lot of drills so that when he gets on base, reading pitchers, thinking about times when to steal, when not to steal, when to be more aggressive, when to be more conservative depending on the score of the game.  All kinds of those little things are going to help him as he progresses.  He’s on a development track that’s going to take him to DC.”

Tripp also talked about how other teams know who Robles is when he steps up to the plate, so he gets the best that everyone has.  No one takes a pitch off when facing him.

 “They know who he is, and he gets their best effort, there’s no doubt about that.”

My favorite comments were about Robles as a person, because we care about who guys are in the clubhouse and off-the-field just as much as we do about who they are on the field.

 “He’s a special kid to watch every day, he’s a really exciting, young man, too, as you get to know him.  he’s a fantastic person.  He’s a friendly person.  He has a smile on his face when he plays.  He’s a fun person to be around, aside from the fact that he’s very talented.”

If you live in the Washington, D.C. to Richmond region, don’t lose out on the opportunity to see Victor Robles while he is so close in terms of proximity, but also how close you are to the action that a minor league game at the Pfitz allows. Looks like DC has some really exciting things to look forward to in the future.

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