BRISTOL, Va. – One of the absolute best things about rookie leagues like the Appalachian League is that relative unknown prospects can emerge now that they have left Pirate City and gain exposure. This can happen because of age, physical development, and the sheer difficulty of projecting how young men will grow into baseball players.
Signed for $175,000 in the 2014 international free agent class, Domingo Robles comes to Bristol after mediocre results in the GCL in 2016, but he’s showing enough growth in 2017 to land himself on the prospect map with the ceiling of a #5 MLB starter or reliever—a great outcome for a relatively small investment in the international market.
I saw the slender 6’ 2″, 170 pound lefty July 7th against Pulaski and came away impressed with his three-pitch mix and strike-throwing ability. He was dominant through five innings, striking out six and giving up only two hits and no walks before hitting a rough spot in the 6th when his command slipped (and the defense behind him didn’t help).
Robles repertoire begins with both a two- and four-seam fastball. The latter comes in 91-92 MPH and provides a different look than the more effective 88-90 two-seam, which he located devastatingly well down in the zone with above-average sink. The two-seam generates weak contact, some swing-and-miss, and sets up his strong curveball/changeup combination of secondary pitches. He attacked the zone with it and was ahead of hitters throughout.
“One thing he does really well is keep the fastball down in the zone. I think he only had a small handful of misses up [in the start], and that’s how he’s been for us so far,” said pitching coach Joel Hanrahan.
Long-term, Robles’ mid-70s curveball with steep 12-6 drop is likely to emerge as his best secondary pitch, and the pitch has been a key development focus in 2017.
“The coaches asked me to really focus in this outing on tightening my curveball and throwing it correctly so it’s a better pitch for me,” said the slender teenager.
Hanrahan was quite happy with Robles’ July 7th outing, particularly the better curveball he showed.
“He’s done a real good job,” Hanrahan said. “We’ve been working with him on his curveball. We’d like to see him do more of what he did in this outing, bounce it on the plate, strike guys out. We’re still working on tightening it up, which will make it break sharper and the velocity should go up a little.”
Robles also has great trust in his 83-84 MPH changeup, noting that it has been his preferred secondary pitch. He threw it less than the curveball in this outing given his developmental focus, but I project it to be an average MLB pitch at maturity.
All told, Robles projects to have an above average (FV 55) fastball combination, plus curveball (FV 60) and workable changeup (FV 45-50) at the MLB level if everything comes together. Much will of course depend on the young lefty’s physical growth and ability to sharpen up each of his pitches. As a result, while the upside and projection is similar to his rotation mates Braeden Ogle and Travis MacGregor, Robles comes with more risk.
As Hanrahan notes, “He just turned 19, so he has a lot of maturing to do with his body and growing up. As he gets stronger I see the curveball becoming a plus pitch for him. Really, with all his pitches, I see room for growth.”
Enjoy some video of Robles carving with all three of his pitches working: