Trayvon Robinson is an interesting player. That doesn’t mean he is a good player, he is just interesting. He is an athletic outfielder that has shown a little bit of power, speed, and an ability to play centerfield. There is no need to go over the whole story of Robinson again. The Mariners acquired him from the Dodgers in the complicated Erik Bedard deal. He got a stint in the Majors for the Mariners and really struggled. It was determined pretty early on in Spring Training that he would be playing for Tacoma to start the year instead of Seattle. Robinson responded by showing some flashes of his talent, walking quite a bit, but striking out too much and being mediocre overall with the bat.
Since being recalled, Robinson has played in 13 games in the Majors in 2012. Remember, this is all sample size so it makes no sense to look at his slash line. So what do his plate discipline stats say?
He is actually swinging at pitches outside of the zone more and pitches inside the zone less. That is not a good combination. Despite this, he is making more contact, with a contact percentage of about 10% better. Last year, he was making about as much contact as Casper Wells (who is notoriously strikeout prone) is this year, while now he is making contact about (slightly less) as much as Michael Saunders is in his breakout season (Saunders is really only making contact 1% more of the time this year than his career averages). He is swinging through less pitches, although he is still worse than league average in that respect. He has done this without sacrificing hard contact. He has hit more line drives so far this year, and less ground-balls. Again, this is small sample size, but Robinson seems to have a better approach at the plate, walking more and striking out less.
There were a couple of good signs I saw on Wednesday’s game that leads me to believe he has made some progress over last year. Earlier in the game, he drove a low pitch the other way against Jeremy Hellickson. It was a pitcher’s pitch, and Robinson made good contact on it. In a later at-bat, right after Justin Smoak chased a curveball to strikeout, Trayvon took a 1-1 curve low. After a pitch outside made the count 3-1, Robinson got a strike but didn’t make good contact with it and weakly grounded out. It was somewhat of an embodiment of Robinson’s career. He showed good approach but didn’t take advantage of a pitch. Trayvon Robinson is not a tools guy that doesn’t know how to play baseball. He doesn’t fall under that type of prospect.
How about defensively? He has passed the eye test in the field. However, UZR has been no fan at all, as he is rated as costing the Mariners 7.8 runs in his 56 career MLB games. DRS tells the same story, saying he has cost the team 7 runs. However, when I have seen him in both the minors and the majors, I have always thought he was a pretty good defender. For example, he made a great catch to save Hisashi Iwakuma on Friday night. I didn’t think his dive on Tuesday was that ill-advised, despite what some writers said. He wasn’t going to get to the ball and since the ball was in the corner, it didn’t matter if he whiffed on it. It lead to a triple, but I think best case scenario would have been keeping him at 2nd. However flawed defensive metrics might be, when the two major ones agree on the same amount of runs, it means something. So I read some old (within the past couple of years though) scouting reports on Robinson for comparison. The tools to be a good fielder is clearly there, but there were some questions about whether or not he took good routes to the ball. Some questioned his arm, so much so that he would have to move to the corner away from center field. There is another way to evaluate talent on defense as well, the “Fans Scouting Report” on Fangraphs. His instincts are given a 69 (all of the ratings out of 100), his first step at 75, speed at 79, with 39 arm strength. So the report actually believes in his ability to make correct routes. Overall, he is rated as a 61 defensive player. For comparison, that is tied with Dexter Fowler, A-Rod, Hunter Pence, and Darwin Barney. He is rated slightly better than Adam Jones and Josh Reddick. That is a pretty good player, even without the arm strength.
I think Trayvon Robinson can be a pretty good player in the major leagues. Due to his arm and lack of overwhelming power, he may be a 4th outfielder type. However, the Mariners have had good defensive corner outfielders without a ton of power before.