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Tigers prospect Robson’s grit draws raves from manager

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

This happened last week in a game against South Bend, when West Michigan outfielder Jacob Robson laid down one of the bunts that so often for him in April have been base hits.

This time he was out, courtesy of a high tag in the face by South Bend’s first baseman.

Robson didn’t appreciate the face-wash. And neither did teammates who scrapped with South Bend players in one of those infield spats that follow when emotions are high and, fortunately, the temptation to throw punches is low.

Robson later apologized to his Whitecaps manager, Mike Rabelo.

But the skipper was just fine with how a 22-year-old, left-handed batter, a London, Ontario, native who last year was an eighth-round Tigers draft pick from Mississippi State, handled the face-slap.

“This is a tough, Canadian kid who isn’t afraid of anything,” Rabelo said. “I said to him after the apology, ‘Robbie, you’ve got to stand up for yourself — this is the big leagues.’”

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Robson appreciated the message and Rabelo’s “big leagues” reference that was said more colloquially than literally. And even if Robson had been fast on the trigger, which Rabelo repeated he most certainly was not, there’s little likelihood a player in his first full season in the minors would be changing his baseball persona.

It’s part of an overall portfolio that has seen Robson bat .362 in 14 games with the Whitecaps, with a .403 on-base average.

“This kid is a baseball player,” said Rabelo, the one-time Tigers catcher who was part of that Richter-scale trade 10 years ago when Miguel Cabrera came to Detroit from the Marlins “All you have to do is watch him run out to his position. All you need to see is that he’s the first one on the field.

“If he hits a ball back to the pitcher, he’s going to give you a hard 90 (feet to first base). I love him. Love him to death. He goes about his business, he’s a great teammate, and a great student. I’m very thrilled.”

Robson is 5-foot-10, 175 pounds, and part of what has been a hot Whitecaps outfield that features Cam Gibson, the former Michigan State star and son of Kirk Gibson, as well as Danny Woodrow, a 12th-round pick last June from Creighton.

Rabelo uses the gang interchangeably when their range is wide and they have such ease in adapting to center field or to either corner.

At the plate, Robson isn’t a power guy. He’s more of a singles hitter who can run.

Eight of those singles have come by way of a talent Rabelo finds particularly helpful.

“The No. 1 reason why his numbers are strong — his on-base average and his batting average, is that he’s taken to the art of bunting,” Rabelo said. “And that’s a tip of the cap to him.”

It was a message driven into Robson during spring training by Dave Owen, director of development for the Tigers, and roving outfield coach Gene Roof.

“He’s taken it and run with it,” Rabelo said of the bunt-for-hits message. “He’s buying in and practicing it.

“He can run, but he also has really good hand-eye coordination. He’s fast, yeah, but you have to be able to bunt. It’s not as easy as people say it is.

“But we’ve got three guys who are really good at it: Woodie, Robby, and Gibby,” said Rabelo, dishing out the nicknames. “They practice. And not just because a coach makes them do it.

“These guys get on base, they create all kinds of havoc. They’re just a great bunch of guys.”

Rabelo is in his first season at West Michigan following three summers at short-season Single A Connecticut.

He has his share of pitchers on a Whitecaps staff that, in the past, has specialized in pitching more than hitting.

With this crew, he wonders if his outfielders, and position guys overall, might even the scales a bit.

“This team is a bunch of heck-raising fellas,” Rabelo said. “We’ve got a bunch of guys from the Midwest, and a bunch of Canadian guys (Robson and another outfielder, Cole Baumi), and they all follow hockey —and they’re all tough.

“Robbie is quieter than most of them. But he’s tough as nails. I love ‘em all.”

lynn.henning@detroitnews.com

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