(Trayvon Robinson, center, talks to Carlos Peguero, left, and Michael Saunders during an early-spring workout. Photo by Associated Press).
Trayvon Robinson caused quite a bit of excitement when he got called up last August, shortly after the Mariners acquired him in the Erik Bedard trade, by way of the Dodgers.
He singled off Jered Weaver in his first game and also made a home-run saving catch against Torii Hunter that night that was the No. 1 top play on ESPN’s SportsCenter. He homered in his second game, and two weeks later had six hits in a doubleheader in Cleveland. That raised Robinson’s average to .321 after 15 games, and it seemed like Jack Zduriencik had really unearthed a gem. A young, switch-hitting gem who could run, and run down balls in the outfield.
But then the bottom fell out for Robinson. The next month was disastrous. Over his final 29 games, Robinson hit .144/.188/.222, with just five extra-base hits and 44 strikeouts in 90 at-bats. He was also erratic in the field at times. Overall, Robinson hit .210 in 44 games with a .586 OPS, striking out 61 times in 143 at-bats.
Now Robinson is in his first Mariners’ spring camp, and he’s somewhat of a forgotten man. There’s not much buzz around him anymore, and little mention of Robinson when mapping out the 2012 Mariner season. That’s not to say the Mariners have given up on Robinson. At 24, he’s still young enough to break out, and his raw tools are too great to just write off. But this is definitely a big year for him to re-establish himself as someone who can help the Mariners moving forward. He’ll have to do that initially at Tacoma, most likely, because I don’t see any scenario by which Robinson makes the team.
Zduriencik said that what Robinson went through last year is not unusual. He found out how hard it is to play and succeed in the major leagues.
“A lot of guys did,” Zduriencik said. “That’s a good thing. It isn’t a bad thing, because now it gives you a measuring stick. Trayvon had a really good season in Triple-A, 26 home runs, and now all of a sudden, you’re in the big leagues. These guys are veteran guys, you’re playing up there in August and September, and you’re getting exposed.
“But sometimes those that are very talented need that. Because you need to know where your shortcomings are, or lack of experiences, for a better term. And go back and work on them, and realize this thing isn’t a gift. This doesn’t come easy. It’s something that can’t be taken for granted, and preparation and experience are huge factors in a lot of these kid’s development. In his case, I think that should be what he saw. He’s got tools, he’s got a good swing, he’s a switch hitter. There’s things he can do. But again, he’s one of a whole group of guys who have some ability.”
Manager Eric Wedge added, “I think it should have been an education for him, no doubt, in every area of the game, whether it be offensively, defensively, or on the basepaths. I think he got a pretty good feel for the speed of the game. Trayvon has a lot of raw ability, a lot of talent, he’s a good kid, he’s a hard worker. I didn’t feel he was in the best shape at the end of last year, but he’s in much better shape this year. That’s a part of his game that’s important for him because he is a speed guy, and the way he moves around is important, too. He did a good job this winter. Now it’s time to tighten things up for him, offensively, defensively, and on the basepaths.”
That comment about Robinson not being in shape surprised me a bit. I asked Wedge if he thought a lack of conditioning is what hampered Robinson.
“No,” he replied. “I think it was just being in the leagues and running through things for the first time.”
I also asked Wedge if he’s worried that last year’s struggles might have hurt Robinson’s confidence. His answer was typically blunt.
“Well, you’ve got to handle it. It’s the big leagues. I talk about being confident all the time. You have to have that. Sometimes, you can’t wait for success to have that. You have to go out there and believe in yourself before it happens. With success, obviously, confidence comes right along with that. It’s been my experience sometimes if you sit around and wait for that to happen, you just don’t get there.”
Robinson said he worked out hard this offseason, usually with his close friend Josh Bell of the Orioles. He said he was motivated by his taste of big-league life.
“Big time. That’s all I was thinking about this offseason, trying to get past the mistakes. I really worked on the mental aspect of the game. Just control what you can control.”
Last year, he said, “I just think I didn’t slow it down. I let the game speed up. I was just all over the place. Sometimes, I slowed it down and I was comfortable. Sometimes, my mind was everywhere. About the time you look up, it’s the end of the season already. You start thinking about a lot of things, like maybe I could have put a good impression on the club of what I can do. But it seems like I just ran out of time.
“It is what it is. All I can do is turn the page and help the team win this year. On both sides of ball, defense, basepaths, and at the plate. I know I can go out and make an impact for this club.”
Robinson looked at a lot of tape this winter, trying to see where he went astray.
“I just think I wasn’t taking control of my zone. Looking at video, I was swinging at a lot of strikes. But I was also letting strikes go. I have to take control of it. That’s what I worked on this offseason. That’s what I’ve been working on in spring training. If they’re in the zone, they’re going to pay.”
Now Robinson will try to make that mindset work for him, and work his way back into the Mariners’ plans.