Image credit: Kristian Robinson (Photo by Bill Mitchell)
At a time when there were no games to be played, Diamondbacks outfielder Kristian Robinson would close his eyes and imagine them.
Sometimes he would picture himself standing in the outfield, his mind in a peaceful state. Other times he would pick up a bat, incorporating a physical rep with an imaginary situation.
For Robinson, visualization is something he will take from baseball’s lost pandemic year. It is not the only thing. There was a readjusting of his priorities, a sense of humility and the joy of fatherhood.
It all helped the 20-year-old salvage what was, in some ways, a lost year for development.
But that is not the way Robinson would describe last year. There might not have been minor league games to play—and Robinson might perfectly represent the sort of demographic most hurt by a lack of reps. But he would not consider it a throwaway.
“I definitely did take something away from this (past) year,” he said.
Robinson is one baseball’s most tantalizing prospects. At 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, he is a physical specimen. He possesses raw power, speed and athleticism. He has the sort of makeup and determination that often is necessary to maximize potential.
He also is raw. Signed out of the Bahamas for $2.5 million in 2017, Robinson can be plagued by swing-and-miss issues. His approach can appear unrefined. His spectrum of potential career outcomes is wide.
For that reason, he needed to play. And that is what makes last year so challenging—for him and other young players throughout baseball.
As a foreign-born player who would have otherwise had difficulty returning to his home country during the quarantine period, Robinson was granted access last spring and summer to remain at Salt River Fields, Arizona’s facility near Scottsdale. But he was not initially a part of the team’s 60-man player pool, meaning he was limited in his interactions.
Day after day he would work out with the same small group of fellow minor leaguers and face the same pitchers.
“It really felt like the dog days of summer,” Robinson said. “You’re going to the field, doing the same thing every day. You have no sort of personal goal in mind to accomplish through the year, because you don’t have any sort of timetable for when you need to be ready.”
Eventually, he was added to the D-backs’ 60 and permitted to play in intrasquad games. He also was a full participant during instructional league in the fall. He had his share of ups, including blasting three balls into the pool area at Chase Field in the same game.
He also struggled, going stretches at a time without putting a ball in play. Looking back, he sees those rough patches as a positive.
“I have a lot of stuff to work on,” he said. “I think having the balance of having good games and then having the struggles, it helps me to continue to stay focused with the development of my swing and keeping it polished and continue to advance when it comes to approach at the plate.
“The biggest obstacle that I had this year was approach. I sort of lost that. Just not swinging at strikes and taking balls. Then timing was another one for me, as well. I think out of everything, it kept me grounded. I’m in the offseason now working on my swing because of the struggles that I had last year.”
Robinson thinks the lack of repetitions was mitigated—at least somewhat—by his visualization techniques, which he said helped him keep his mindset focused on development. He would listen to a recording of one of the D-backs’ mental skills coaches—his “mindfulness guide”—talking him through a scenario.
During these drills, he would focus on specific movements in his swing, thinking through how it is supposed to feel, or he would imagine himself playing the outfield. He found that “mental reps” helped. They weren’t exactly physical reps, but they were something.
“It may seem a little off or complicated for people who don’t understand it,” Robinson said, “but it did help a ton for me.”
He said the pandemic helped him understand what is most important in life. He spent more time on the phone with his family during one month of 2020 than he did all of 2019. He also became a father when his son Siah was born in October.
But he is excited for the upcoming season, one he and the rest of the industry hopes is back to normal.
“I’m starting to get the jitters again just thinking about looking forward to a regular season and spring training,” Robinson said. “A lot of people obviously feel like they lost a year. I feel like in some sort of way I
lost the year, as well, even though I got a lot out of last year. I don’t know. This year, it feels like we’re back