PEORIA, Ariz. – Trayvon Robinson arrived in Seattle last year in a blaze of highlights. A single off Jered Weaver and a home-run robbing catch in his first game. A home run in his second game. Six hits in a doubleheader in Cleveland not long after.
It looked like Jack Zduriencik had picked up a gem in the Erik Bedard trade with Boston, by way of the Dodgers.
Robinson was a switch-hitter with power (26 homers last year at Triple-A Albuquerque) and speed (43 stolen bases in 2009), a welcome addition to the Mariners’ crop of young talent.
Then reality didn’t just hit, it suffocated.
Over his final 29 games, Robinson batted .144, with five extra-base hits and 44 strikeouts in 90 at-bats. His average plunged from .321 on Aug. 23 to .210 at season’s end.
Not only was Robinson overmatched at the plate, but he struggled in the field at times as well.
As a result, Robinson’s status as a burgeoning prospect must be re-established, which is his mission this spring.
“I know I can go out and make an impact for this ballclub,” he said.
But Robinson also knows that he has to win back over the skeptics, and show the Mariners he learned from his mistakes.
He has already succeeded in one area. Manager Eric Wedge challenged Robinson to work on his conditioning this winter, and Robinson did just that.
“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,” Wedge said. “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 for him to tighten things up offensively, defensively and on the basepaths.”
Until the Mariners see evidence, Robinson won’t be among the viable candidates to replace Franklin Gutierrez in center field while Gutierrez recovers from his pectoral injury.
But that doesn’t mean the M’s have given up on him, either. Far from it. They still love his raw tools, and at 24, believe there is still time to harness them.
“I think it should have been an education for him, no doubt, in every area of the game,” Wedge said. “He’s got a lot of talent. He’s a good kid, a hard worker. I think he got a pretty good feel for the speed of the game.”
That is the operative phrase – speed of the game. Like many young players, Robinson found himself flailing at times to keep up, and often out of sync in the process.
“I just think I didn’t slow it down,” he said. “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.”
The upshot, Robinson said, was that “by 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.”
For 2011, maybe. But Robinson is using the brief taste of big-league life he experienced as motivation, even if he’ll most likely start the year in Tacoma. It’s what drove him as he worked out in Southern California with his close friend, Josh Bell of the Orioles.
“Big time. That’s all I was thinking about, trying to get past the mistakes,” he said. “I really worked on the mental aspect of the game. Not thinking about it too much. Just control what you can control.”
As for the spate of strikeouts, Robinson pored over tapes of his at-bats, trying to figure out where he went astray.
“I just think I wasn’t taking control of the zone,” he said. “I let them slip past. Looking at video, I was swinging at a lot of strikes. But I was also letting strikes go by. That’s what I mean by not taking control of my zone. 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.”
Zduriencik believes a Robinson revival is possible, pointing out that he wasn’t the only Mariners youngster to experience growing pains.
“It isn’t a bad thing, because now it gives you a measuring stick,” he said. “Sometimes, those that are very talented need that.”
For Robinson, this is an important year for those talents to come to the forefront.