Position: Left-handed Pitcher
The Tigers brought Robles stateside in 2008 following two seasons in the VSL where he combined to post a 3.18 ERA in 23 appearances. After signing in April 2006, Robles debuted with the VSL Tigers that summer, pitching in 14 games as a reliever. In his outings, Mauricio struck out 20 in 16 innings, though he walked another 16 batters as well.
In his second season in the VSL, Robles really began to put things together; tying for fifth in the league in starts (14), and ranking third in strikeouts (83). He managed all those whiffs in just 69 innings on the hill, and cut his walks by more than half, to 3.52 per nine innings. After coming to the States for spring training in 2008, the Tigers held Robles back in extended spring training to continue preparing him for his ultimate assignment.
In May, the Tigers sent Robles to West Michigan to help out a depleted Whitecaps staff. In six games in relief in his first month of full-season ball, Robles struck out fifteen batters in 12 2/3 innings of work. The Tigers moved Mauricio to the rotation for much of the remainder of the season, and he responded by going 4-3 in 16 starts over the season's final three months, with a 2.29 ERA and 1.21 WHIP. In July, Robles' 1.55 ERA in 29 innings of work was enough to make him the runner-up for the TigsTown West Michigan Pitcher of the Month award.
Though a touch on the small side, Robles has a strong, thick frame that lends well to becoming a durable pitcher. He has clean mechanics and a quick arm that generates an outstanding fastball. Working at 87-89 prior to coming stateside, Robles matured physically prior to coming to the States, and was working consistently at 92-93 with the Whitecaps last year. He touched 95 on occasion, and his ball showed tremendous explosive life that gave batters fits, and some arm-side life that ate lefties alive.
Mauricio backs up his heater with an above-average curveball and a change-up that has showed some flashes of promise. Though the breaker lacks consistency, it has good downer movement that is sharp and late. Robles struggles to command the breaking ball, and is prone to leaving it up in the zone where it can flatten out and become more hittable. His change-up has generally been a below average offering, but it has shown flashes of becoming a solid tertiary offering that he can use to keep right-handers off balance.
Generally speaking, Robles' command is lacking and much improve for him to take the next step as a prospect. He has the raw stuff and the know-how to become a legitimate Major League option, but consistency and command must catch up. He struggled early in 2008 to keep his emotions in check on the mound, and he must learn to settle down on the mound when in front of larger crowds; something he had little experience with prior to coming stateside.
Performance Level Team W-L ERA G GS SV SO BB IP AVG A
Mauricio has avoided injuries to date, and his thick lower half allows him to take some pressure off his arm by using his legs to generate momentum and velocity. Having worked 90+ innings for the first time in his career in 2008, he should be prepared to handle a workload approaching 125+ innings in 2009.
If the organization opts to keep Robles in a rotation – a likely scenario – he will likely remain in Lakeland after spring training to pitch for the Flying Tigers. Another pitcher friendly environment may be exactly what he needs to take the next step in his development, and learn to challenge hitters more with his choice of pitches. One thing we can likely expect from Mauricio in 2009, is an increase in his strikeout rate as he learns to setup and finish hitters more regularly. There is little doubting his raw talent, and if his command can become even passable, he has the potential to be a solid mid-rotation starter that is capable of eating innings and keeping his team in ball games.
Mark Anderson is TigsTown's Managing Editor and feature Minor League writer. He can be reached at Mark@TigsTown.com.