A Bahamian Breakout: 2019 is the Year of Kristian Robinson

Written by: Ray Butler

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You won’t find Kristian Robinson’s name in the most-recent edition of MLB.com’s top-100 prospects. You also won’t find it on CBS Sports’ latest top-100 prospect list (a list that admittedly rewards proximity to the majors. It’s written by Scott White).

As a matter of fact, when I told Robinson, an outfield prospect for the Diamondbacks, he was already considered a top-100 prospect by a few lesser-known entities, he didn’t believe me.

“I’m not on the top 100!” he laughed. I then told him I ranked him 57th on my December top-100 list.

“That’s humbling,” Robinson said. “Being able to play professional baseball on its own is a blessing. But I appreciate the recognition.”

Ranked 15th on MLB.com’s international prospect list, Robinson inked with Arizona for $2.55 million in July 2017. He was 16-years-old at the time.

From a shock-factor standpoint, tabbing Robinson as my 2019 breakout prospect only makes a little sense. The Athletic‘s Zach Buchanan wrote a feature on Robinson and fellow countryman Jazz Chisholm ($) earlier this week. Throughout the ‘underground’ prospect community, Robinson has been a common topic of conversation since last summer. If you’ve really been paying attention (and following the right people on Twitter), the helium surrounding the Bahamian teenager has been increasing for quite awhile now.

And with good reason.

Robinson is 6’3 and 190 pounds. As I mentioned in his December write-up, the 18-year-old is truly built like a wide receiver you’d expect to see on ESPN on Saturdays during college football season.

Instead, he’s in the process of taking the lower-levels of the minor leagues by storm. Last summer as a mere 17-year-old, Robinson hit 7 home runs and stole 12 bases combined in both Rookie Ball levels. He slashed .279/.363/.428 in 57 games and 256 plate appearances despite being more than three years younger than his average competition.

“It was humbling to see and compete against world-class talent,” Robinson said about his professional debut. “I was pretty content with my performance for the simple reason I moved up a level at the end of the year.”

But what the outfielder said next really epitomizes the mindset of the teenager I had the opportunity to converse with leading up to the publishing of this article.

“I like to think of myself as an imperfect perfectionist. I know no one is perfect, but I’m always striving for something better and more consistent.”

As if I needed any more convincing that I had made the right pick.

A quick glance at Robinson’s player page on Fangraphs confirms what you see when you watch the outfielder play: 70-grade raw power and 60-grade speed. Just watch the ball jump off his bat here in the Arizona League.

As you can see, Robinson’s swing is extremely athletic and built to effortlessly loft the ball. It’s also a little noisy with some moving parts, which are characteristics of any teenager’s swing.

As you’re perusing his Fangraphs page, you also notice the unpolished hit tool. You see that while Robinson walked in 10.5% of his plate appearances last summer, he struck out in 26.2% of his plate appearances.

Other than unfortunate and unforeseen injuries in the future, the hit tool might be the only thing that keeps Robinson from reaching superstardom.

The 18-year-old is well-aware that contact rate is a skill that needs continued development, though, and it’s something he hopes to continue to develop in 2019.

“Barrel accuracy,” Robinson answered when asked what he wants to improve this season. “And a smart approach both offensively and defensively.”

What’s he been doing this offseason to make that hope a reality?

“Staying on top of my swing, constantly refining certain movements that can easily fade and maintaining a healthy weight for my profile,” Robinson said. “That includes (weight lifting), endurance training, good eating habits and a steady arm care program. (I’ve also been focusing on) progression with hand-eye coordination.”

Having just turned 18 in December, most kids Robinson’s age just began their final semester of high school.

Defensively, Robinson played games at all three outfield positions last season. Despite his height, a lot of scouts think he could stick in center field throughout his career. If not, Robinson certainly has the arm to play right field.

At 6’3, contrarians and naysayers will say Robinson’s speed will eventually fade as he finalizes his physical development. But he has an interesting take on that thought.

“If I lose a step, I’m gaining a pound,” Robinson said. “I’m getting better one way or another—as a dual threat or just a powerhouse.”

Hailing from Nassau, the capital city of The Bahamas, Robinson is just one of the prospects who’s ushering in an influx of talent from the country. Jazz Chisholm, Lucius Fox, Tahnaj Thomas and D’Shawn Knowles are some of the other notable Bahamian prospects currently trending upward throughout the prospect community.

As a native of a country who’s only seen six of its countrymen play in the big league in its history, I was curious as to who Robinson looked up to as a kid and who he models his game after now. His answers might surprise you.

“Derek Jeter’s character, for sure,” Robinson said. “J.D. (Martinez’s) swing, and Mookie (Betts’) athleticism. Trout is too good!”

As he develops, the fame will obviously continue to grow. As a down-to-earth Bahamian, it will always be ‘more than baseball’ for Robinson. Recently, he threw out the first pitch of the Junior Baseball League of Nassau season. He was standing on the mound of a field he played on as a kid. Possessing wisdom beyond his years, a crazy thought struck him.

“I realized the way those upcoming superstars look up to myself and other Bahamian professional athletes is the same way I looked up to the generation of athletes before me,” Robinson said. “At that exact moment, I had an awakening—that my support team grows as big as a nation.”

Robinson poses with a group of young baseball players at St. Andrew’s School in 2017. (Photo credit: tribune242.com)

Robinson is years away from a potential big league debut. He’s so unknown to the common baseball fan that he probably has fewer Twitter followers (currently 260) than you. There are so few pictures of the outfielder when you do a Google Images search that I picked a photo from his travel ball days to use as the featured image of this article. As far as prospects go, Robinson is still a bit off the beaten path.

Despite all of this, you want a projection. You’re here for a projection.

It’s a fool’s errand, but I’ll oblige anyways.

Let’s get the bad out of the way first. Strikeouts will always be a part of Robinson’s game, but I suspect the strikeout rate will stabilize somewhere between 20-25% as the outfielder gains more competitive experience. You’ll always wish he struck out a little less, but you’ll be more than happy to live with the pitfall when you read what’s coming next.

The AVG and OBP from last summer (.279 and .363 respectively) are actually pretty accurate representations of what we’ll see from Robinson in the future. The teenager’s plus speed should allow for high BABIP throughout his career. Now strap yourself in, because I’ve saved the best for last.

Plus-plus raw power means 30 home runs should be more than attainable for Robinson at the big league level, especially if the hit tool continues to develop. At his best, the outfielder could flirt with 40 home run seasons. The plus speed is a little harder to evaluate because of the risk it vanishes to an extent as Robinson fills out. If the teenager is able to maintain his current physique and speed throughout his career, 20 to 30 stolen bases per season is a possibility. A more conservative projection is that Robinson debuts in the big leagues with either 50 or 55 speed, meaning he might have a couple of 20 stolen base seasons at his peak.

If I’m throwing a dart, I’d say a prime Robinson big league campaign (meaning he’s reached his ceiling) looks something like .280/.365/.530 with 30 home runs and 20 stolen bases (a friend of mine comped him to prime Justin Upton, and the comparison fits quite well in my opinion). In his recent Diamondbacks top-30 prospects list, Prospects Live’s Matt Thompson comped Robinson’s upside to that of a more-athletic Eloy Jimenez. There’s potential to someday be the top overall prospect in baseball. You’d take that on your fantasy team, right?

Quite honestly, it’s impossible to project Robinson’s big league future with any level of certainty. What I am certain about is that Robinson is a prospect who, for lack of a better term, ‘gets it’. He’s extremely humble, extremely intelligent and extremely hungry, and he seems to understand the platform he’s been given. When you pair those facts with his physical gifts, Robinson’s ceiling is practically limitless. And not only that, he’s going to be a prospect who’s very easy to root for.

Mum’s the word as to whether the Diamondbacks will challenge Robinson with a placement in full season ball (Low-A) to begin the 2019 season, or if they’ll be more conservative and keep the outfielder at their complex until Short Season ball begins. Robinson himself doesn’t even know. My gut tells me the former scenario is the more likely outcome (a guy can hope, anyways).

I wanted to get a sense of Robinson’s long-term thinking as we wrapped up our conversation. My last question? “A long time from now when you hang your cleats up, what do you want your legacy to be?”

“Well rounded,” Robinson responded. “A successful son, brother, father, husband, cousin and friend. A realistic goal would be to impact baseball in the Bahamas in some way. More so than what we as professionals do now. Playing in the big leagues would be a dream come true on its own.”

It’s bigger than baseball for Robinson. It always has been. Soon, he’ll be one of the best prospects this sport has to offer. Purchase your ticket for the hype-train before it’s too late.

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Featured image courtesy of MLB.com

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