Deep down on the Washington Nationals farm, there is an exciting trio atop the Hagerstown Suns lineup. Victor Robles, Max Schrock and Kelvin Gutierrez are lighting up the Sally in an offensive barrage that has the Suns sitting at 18-9 heading into the final two games of the weekend.
The Hagerstown Trio sounds more like a 1920s jazz group that an upstart gang of prospects. That is exactly what they are. All three are in the top ten in the South Atlantic League in batting average, and they combine to litter the top ten in nearly every other statistical category.
So, who are they?
Leading off for the Suns is who is widely considered their third best prospect in the system. While all eyes are on the 2016 arrival dates of Lucas Giolito (or right now, what is wrong with him) and Trea Turner, Victor Robles has etched out his spot as on of baseball’s elite prospects. Right now, the Nationals sure look like geniuses for signing this kid for a mere $225,000.
The soon to be 19-year old out of the Dominican Republic has done nothing but hit since coming state side. Last season he shredded the Gulf Coast League and quickly became the youngest starting position player in the NYPL. By season’s end, anyone that didn’t know Robles certainly did.
He slashed a combined .352/.445/.507 over both levels showing that he has attributes that make him a traditional stud five-tool player. Of his 75 hits, 11 were doubles, five were triples and four were home runs. He has elite speed, stealing 24 bases in 29 attempts, and that speed, combined with an outstanding arm, make him arguably the premier centerfielder in the SAL. Robles may never be a 30 home run guy, but he seems to be developing enough pop and has the speed to generate plenty of extra base hits.
Watch this video. The swing is pretty, the speed is fast. Robles is simply exciting.
Robles doesn’t walk an incredibly large amount, but he also doesn’t strikeout a lot either. Great at contact, last season he only walked 18 times in 261 plate appearances, but he only struck out 33 times. He has worked on slimming that margin even more this season, striking out 14 times and walking nine in his first 121 at bats. His numbers thus far (.357/.458/.541) are all on pace to out perform 2015’s breakout, and he’s doing it all at his first season at full-season ball.
Setting the table behind Robles is 21-year old shortstop Max Schrock. Schrock ended last season as a little known shortstop prospect out of South Carolina buried behind Turner in the Nats system, but his quick start in 2016 is silencing skeptics and proving that his 2015 debut may not have been a fluke.
Schrock’s calling card is offense, as he will have to improve his defense to stick at shortstop -- or anywhere in the infield for that matter -- in the big leagues one day. Drafted in the 13th round out of South Carolina, Schrock came to professional ball after improving his offense each of his three seasons at USC, trimming down his strike out rates and increasing his on base prowess annually.
The switch-hitting, right handed throwing Washington native looked to improve on his solid short season 2015 campaign where he batted .308/.355/.448. You aren’t going to find elite power numbers — in fact, you may not find any — however, like his counterpart in Robles, he has nice speed and extra base hit ability.
This season has been more of the same. Schrock is currently third in the SAL in batting, sitting at an impressive .362. He is sixth in on base percentage at .433 due to his ability to avoid the strikeout. Schrock walked 79 times while striking out just 62 in 548 career college at bats, and he has continued to show a keen eye and rounded plate discipline as a pro, striking out eight times and walking 13 already this season. Throw in smart base path awareness and plus speed -- he is 11-for-12 in stolen bases -- helps to put him in run scoring position. He scoring 61-percent of the time he’s on base which is, simply put, impressive.
Diminutive in stature — standing at just 5 foot 8 and 180 pounds — Schrock is likely heading to career at second base. He has a decent arm and average range, so the switch seems to make sense — especially with Turner ahead of him — and he is quickly proving that his bat is too valuable to give up on, especially with the likelihood of developing even more pop in Hagerstown’s favorable ball park.
Rounding out the Big Three is third baseman Kelvin Gutierrez. The 21-year old was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2012 and has shown both good and average qualities in three previous seasons in the Nats system. Gutierrez is the least likely to enter his name in the top prospects list of the three, but that doesn’t mean his improving play won’t prove him to be a one-day serviceable role player in the bigs.
Gutierrez had an impressive — if not surprising — debut in the NYPL last season. He slashed .305/.358/.414, showing that he is indeed a hitter, but showed some of his weaknesses as well. Gutierrez hit his first career home run — and only to date — and showed that power is not his strong suit. He also needs to develop better plate discipline. He struck out 52 times while walking only 16 in 239 at bats last season. That trend has carried over thus far in 2016.
The right-handed hitting third baseman does make solid contact as he is No. 10 in batting in the SAL at a .324 lick. That being said, he may be a bit on the lucky side with a .405 BABIP. He has struck out 21 times and walked only 10 in his first 113 plate appearances and while not great, those numbers do show improvement from last season.
Gutierrez is also only average at best at third base. He is very error prone, making 18 in 151 chances last season and continuing the trend by making seven in his first 69 total chances this season. His range isn’t blowing anyone off the charts, so their is little to suggest that Gutierrez is going to make his way to the pros based on defense alone. In fact, a position switch may be his best option to sustain longevity in this league.
The Washington Nationals certainly have a history of pumping out some of baseball’s most exciting young stars. One thing is for sure, they are definitely amongst the most hyped. Should the Hagerstown Trio keep up this hitting, they may be the next on the D.C.- hype machine.