Once upon a time, Daniel Robertson was considered one of the Top 100 prospects in baseball.
A former first-round pick, Robertson was ranked as one of the game’s possible future stars as recently as just four years ago, when he made his second straight appearance in Baseball Prospectus’ Top 100 list prior to the 2016 season. Here’s what they had to say about him that year:
He’s still an advanced offensive player with a solid approach at the plate. His line-drive swing and above-average bat speed—with extension—allow him to spray line drives to every part of the field. What once looked like an above-average power tool is now more fringe-average, as his swing path is more geared to contact than to produce big extra-base hit totals, though he will put his share of doubles into the gap from natural strength.
That offense has never really materialized for him, as we know now, but the 26-year-old Robertson has still shown some interesting skills in his short time in the majors and told local reporters he truly believes he’s the next Justin Turner, who was a middling bench player for the New York Mets before landing with the Dodgers and blossoming into a star in his late 20s.
Whether that actually happens or not, there is at least some similar skills there if you squint and cross your fingers.
He broke into the majors in 2017 and played in 75 games, but stuggled to make consistent contact with a 28.7% K% and a line of .206/308/.326. He did show something that was consistent through his time in the minors (and very Turner-like), though — a large split between his OBP and AVG, providing value even if he wasn’t hitting.
Robertson actually turned in a pretty valuable 2018 season, putting up 2.1 WARP by Prospectus’ measure (and 2.4 WAR by Fangraphs), making 340 plate appearances in 87 games and hitting .262/.382/.415 with 9 home runs and 16 doubles.
He cut down his strikeouts significantly from 2017 to 2018 and maintained that OBP/AVG split, but perhaps most notably, he was also hit by a pitch 13 times.
You’d be tempted to partially write off that large OBP/AVG split based on the HBP total — it’s much more random than piling up walks, after all — but Robertson actually seems to have a Rickie Weeks-ian ability to get hit with a pitch.
He’s been hit 23 times in 855 career plate appearances, which translates into 2.69% of his career plate appearances. For the sake of comparison, Weeks — who actually finished his career with Robertson and the Rays in 2017 — was hit 134 times in 5112 plate appearances, or 2.62% of the time. That’s the kind of reckless disregard for your own personal safety that will endear you to fans (me and other Rickie Weeks fans, at least).
The on-base skills have been especially important for Robertson because he hasn’t shown a ton of power at any level. That was less of an issue when he was thought of as a shortstop, but now that he’s largely a utility man who spends most of his time at third base, you’d like to see a little more pop than the 16 home runs he’s hit in his 855 plate appearances and his career .352 slugging percentage.
But hey, Justin Turner never hit for power for the Mets, right?
The Turner comparison might get tiresome if too many media voices latch onto it, but at the very least Robertson seems like a decent flier as a bench value play, whether it’s at third base (if he hits) or filling in at second base and shortstop (if he doesn’t).
Robertson hasn’t had a huge sample size defensively at any position yet considering he only played three partial seasons before 2020, but he does look like a solid hand at second base and shortstop, while his Defensive Runs Saved numbers have been worse at third base — but even those have been just below average.
Even if he ends up being more Casey McGehee than Justin Turner, Robertson feels like someone who could produce more than you’d expect from someone on a one-year deal for less than $1 million.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball Prospectus and Fangraphs