The Cardinals acquired Domingo Robles in a trade with the Pirates on Monday. In return the team only gave up international bonus pool space. Even though this is not the most significant acquisition, Robles is a new player in the system and has some intrigue; therefore, he is worth evaluating.
The left-handed Robles signed with the Pirates as an international free agent way back in 2015. However, despite signing so long ago, he is just 22 years old and reached Double-A in his age 21 season. This made him 3.3 years younger than the average Double-A player; however, despite this, he held his own. The southpaw struggled initially after his promotion from the A-Advanced level, posting a 5.14 ERA through July (12 starts). However, he adjusted after that and posted a much better 2.31 ERA in August (6 starts) including a 95 pitch complete game shutout. Overall, Robles finished with a 4.02 ERA and 4.02 FIP in 103 innings at the level. However, he also tallied a 2.61 ERA and 3.76 FIP in 62 innings in A-Advanced which earned him the promotion.
Robles also pitched well in Single-A in 2018 before struggling after a brief promotion to A-Advanced after spending the previous three years with the various rookie-level affiliates of the Pirates.
The southpaw certainly profiles as a finesse pitcher as he typically strikes out between six and seven hitters per nine innings. However, he has never posted a BB/9 above 2.63 over a full minor league season, and he even finished with a 1.83 BB/9 in Double-A last season. It is clear that the 22-year-old has excellent control, but his lack of swing and miss stuff is concerning. This will be his primary obstacle to reaching the major leagues.
Currently, his fastball sits in the upper 80s and tops out at 92 mph. He also throws a changeup and a breaking ball with the changeup being rated higher than the breaking ball, although they are both at least average offerings. This solid three pitch mix and excellent command gives Robles the profile to remain in the starting rotation. Additionally, if he could add some velocity and consistently throw in the lower 90s, then he may be able to miss more bats and improve his strikeout rate. This is possible as Robles is listed at 6’2” and 170 pounds. The left-hander could certainly add some weight and fill out his frame and this might help him add a couple ticks to his fastball. This could make him a more complete pitcher and potentially allow him to keep moving through the minor league ranks.
On the other hand, Robles could also add velocity by moving to the bullpen. However, the Cardinals will likely use Robles as rotational depth in Double-A or Triple-A in 2021. Despite this, the first step is keeping Robles in the organization through the offseason. The southpaw will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft if he is not added to the 40-man roster, and given that the Cardinals gave up just international bonus pool money, the Cardinals may not try to protect him. However, Robles was fairly well regarded in the Pirates system, and he even moved into the Pirates top 30 prospects list a few years ago. However, with the Rule 5 draft approaching, as well as minor league free agency following the 2021 season, it makes sense that the Pirates got rid of him when they did.
Once again, this is not the most exciting acquisition. However, at the very least, Robles will provide left-handed pitching depth, and there is the potential for him to become a decent arm if he can add a couple ticks to his fastball. Overall, that is not bad for an under-the-radar trade for the Cardinals.