Mauricio Robles’ AAA Debut

marc w · August 15, 2010 at 11:02 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

M’s prospect Mauricio Robles made his first AAA start this afternoon at Cheney Stadium. The hard-throwing lefty was acquired from Detroit along with Luke French in the Jarrod Washburn deal last year. He’s a converted catcher outfielder (thanks JY!), so it’s perhaps not surprising that his command and polish aren’t quite at AAA levels just yet. His fastball is MLB-quality, however, and he used it to dominate the Round Rock line-up for 4 innings today. Of course, baseball games are considerably longer than 4 innings, and he was completely out of sorts in a painful 5th inning that saw him give up 5 runs. Still, his first four innings were as dominant as anything I’ve seen from Pineda this year.

After yielding a single to the lead-off man, Robles retired the next ten hitters in order, with 6 strike-outs, a pop-up and 3 weak grounders. This prompted Rainiers’ play-by-play man Mike Curto to comment, “Let’s try this out, just to see…. Happy Mauricio Robles day?” As if shrinking from the implied comparison, Robles almost immediately lost his command. He got through the 4th without allowing a run, but picked up an injury tagging out Brian Bogusevic in a run-down. In the 5th, he looked absolutely lost. He walked 3 in the inning, including a bases-loaded walk to OF Jack Shuck. He grooved a fastball to the next hitter, Collin DeLome, who promptly hit it out to right field for a grand slam. He was having trouble with his release point (he threw a pitch 3 feet over the next hitter’s head; it was so wild it couldn’t be interpreted as a purpose-pitch) and his mechanics, and lost some velocity as well.

His FB started in the 96 MPH range, and sat around 94 through the fourth. In the 5th, it was more often 93 with a number of 92s, all without any semblance of control. Our fearless leader Dave Cameron mentioned that he thinks Robles is destined for the bullpen, and today’s outing would seem to support that view. And yet…for 3+ innings, he was dominant. It’s easy to find excuses or mitigating circumstances ranging from the general (converted catcher! Not used to pacing himself!) to the specific (he was injured immediately before he lost the strike zone), but it’s time for him to show that he doesn’t need them anymore. His stuff is good enough, though his change wasn’t as good as I’d hoped it would be. Until he makes that leap, though, he’s a confounding prospect – moving from unhittable to unwatchable from game to game or inning to inning. Still, on balance I was impressed with Robles, and terrible 5th inning aside, I’m excited about his promise.
Pictures below the fold.

Mauricio Robles
Robles' pitching motion
Robles throws a pitch


14 Responses to “Mauricio Robles’ AAA Debut”

  1. JMHawkins on August 16th, 2010 12:32 am

    “Let’s try this out, just to see…. Happy Mauricio Robles day?”

    Y’know, you don’t have to squint very much to see a resemblance to Felix in the first photo. Well, okay, you have to look at it in a mirror since he’s left-handed, but still… Something about the way he sets his jaw during the delivery.

  2. thehemogoblin on August 16th, 2010 12:49 am

    He was converted from catcher as a left-hander? Why was he ever behind the plate with a left arm that can touch 96?

  3. Adam B. on August 16th, 2010 1:06 am

    I can[t seem to find any reference to Robles being a catcher, and I can’t remember the last time I heard of a left-handed throwing catcher.
    Perhaps a different Robles?

    Anyway, I do hope that Robles can stick it in the rotation, power lefties are so rare, and if it’s only a matter of stamina, then you would think a better conditioning program and some more time to build up arm/core strength would alleviate most of his issues.

    I think too often guys are branded for certain roles by organizations before they’re given a fair shake at more difficult positions.

  4. Snake Hippo on August 16th, 2010 1:55 am

    I’m pretty sure Robles used to be an outfielder, not a catcher.

  5. mikethomas22 on August 16th, 2010 6:13 am

    I was going to ask the same thing. When was he a catcher? High school? I suppose if his team was no good they might have used him behind the plate when he wasn’t pitching, but he can’t have just been a catcher as a lefty with that sort of arm.

  6. Rayvensdad on August 16th, 2010 9:09 am

    Unless I read it incorrectly, Marc W., did you say that you think Robles is destined for the bullpen? Do you mean if and when he’s brought up this year or that he’ll never be a guy competing for a starting job? I’d think that it would be impossible to gauge a young man’s future on his first AAA start and the fact that he’s still learning. For him to have 4 dominant innings is something to seriously build on. And I agree JMHawkins… that first picture definitely is Felixish.

  7. joser on August 16th, 2010 10:00 am

    Wait, I’m confused. You said

    but picked up an injury tagging out Brian Bogusevic in a run-down.

    And then he stayed in the game while his command went to hell? What was the injury?

    If a guy is hurt an immediately afterwards his performance suffers isn’t it kind of standard to presume the two are related and pull the player earlier rather than later? I realize that puts a heavy burden on the bullpen but an injury is an injury and it’s not like you were counting on a complete game out of him anyway.

  8. Lailoken on August 16th, 2010 10:08 am

    Rayvensdad, Robles has had trouble going deep into games. He’s pitched in 99 minor league games (77 starts) for a grand total of 419 innings. Marc is definitely not judging him on one performance in that regard.

  9. marc w on August 16th, 2010 10:30 am

    Joser, yeah, that’s what happened. He tagged out a runner, then limped back to the mound where the trainers checked him out for a bit. But whatever it was, it clearly wasn’t too severe – maybe he rolled his ankle or something. He got the last hitter of the inning without incident.

    But yes, it’s possible that the injury did indeed affect his performance. That’s what I mean when I say he has something of an excuse for his execrable 5th inning. But as others have pointed out, he’s had trouble working late into games before, so it’s not like this was completely unexpected.

    Robles reminded me a great deal of A’s righty Tyson Ross. You may remember Ross from the first series of the year, where he came out of the bullpen and blew away the M’s with 96-97 FBs. He spent a chunk of ’09 in the minors and that was it – he was able to help out a bit in the MLB pen to start 2010. But the A’s decided to move him to the rotation this year, and he’s been in Sacramento building his stamina. I saw him in early August and his first 3 innings were amazing – carved up Tacoma blowing 97mph fbs by everyone. But his command/velo slowly dipped and the R’s got to him a bit. Still, Ross is a good ‘spect and so is Robles. They need to be given every opportunity to stick in the rotation, and as Robles is only 21, I can’t see that being a problem.

  10. joser on August 16th, 2010 11:01 am

    Unless I read it incorrectly, Marc W., did you say that you think Robles is destined for the bullpen? Do you mean if and when he’s brought up this year or that he’ll never be a guy competing for a starting job? I’d think that it would be impossible to gauge a young man’s future on his first AAA start and the fact that he’s still learning.

    Marc was quoting Dave, and Dave made his statement before Robles’ first AAA start. These kinds of projections are based on stuff, not on one (or even several) starts. Does he have the stuff to get through a lineup two or three times? Does he have the pitches to reliably get both same- and opposite-handed batters out? If the answer is no, and he doesn’t seem to be on a path to where the answer will be yes, then into the bullpen he goes — dominant 4 inning span or not. A pitcher with a dominant fastball but nothing else is probably not a big league starter, though he may be able to go out and be good (and/or lucky) for several innings in a row.

    Certainly, young pitchers can grow and develop (converted position players especially), and while I don’t know the strength of Round Rock’s hitters (given they’re Houston’s farm team, probably not much), retiring 10 batters in a row does hint at greater things. But a look at his splits (click on the Tacoma link) makes it quite clear all his trouble came from LH batters, which brings us back to his (non-fastball) pitches: sliders (and to a much less extent curves) tend to be used as a fastball alternative against same-handed batters (whereas the changeup is used against opposite-handed batters). Without an effective alternative pitch like that, he’s entirely reliant on placing his fastball precisely, and if he loses that control (or batters start anticipating his placement) then innings like the 5th are the result.

  11. Eric Walkingshaw on August 16th, 2010 1:16 pm

    Those pictures are awesome. I would *love* to see more pictures in prospect reports. Keep up the good work, guys.

  12. marc w on August 16th, 2010 1:47 pm

    Thanks a lot, Eric. As long as the prospects play in Cheney, photos are a possibility! Anywhere else and….eh, google image search.

  13. Charlie Says on August 16th, 2010 4:57 pm

    Being at the game, the injury seemed rather insignificant, as I didn’t notice anything until the trainer came out. The Rainiers had just scored 3 runs in the bottom of a fairly long 4th inning. In the top of the 5th is when Robles fell apart. Being as raw as he is, I think it was just the previous inning that upset his rhythm. His command was very inconsistent all game, although he did a good job of being around the strike zone and was able to take advantage of a weak lineup. When I bought my ticket, I was expecting Pineda. Instead I got the next best thing as I personally am very excited to follow his development.

  14. dantheman on August 16th, 2010 8:29 pm

    I was there, too. He was very, very impressive for the first 4 innings.

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