Few White Sox players have entered the major leagues with as much hype as Luis Robert.
Reviewing the last three decades, only one comes to mind — Hall of Famer Frank Thomas. Robin Ventura, Harold Baines, Chris Sale, Yoan Moncada and Jack McDowell were all properly touted in their early days, but not like Thomas and Robert.
Just over six years after Thomas was enshrined in Cooperstown, Robert is beginning to make his mark. It has the makings to be substantial.
He is a completely different player than the Big Hurt. Robert’s a sleek sports car, fully loaded. Thomas was more of a big, wide ride, with power under the hood to match.
It remains to be seen what kind of impact Robert is going to make on the South Side — his career is all of 15 games old — but No. 88 is certainly off to a flying start.
“It’s unbelievable, this guy,” teammate Leury Garcia said.
An eight-year vet, Garcia is a credible source. So is underrated Sox reliever Evan Marshall, who’s also pitched for the Indians, Mariners and Diamondbacks.
“Luis Robert is probably the MVP in the AL right now,” Marshall said last Wednesday.
Even with the skyscraper expectations and crazy comps, ranging from Mike Trout to Vlad Guerrero to Roberto Clemente, it would be asking a bit much of the Cuban-born prodigy to win best player honors this season. Rookie of the Year is much more realistic.
But ... the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Robert is a rare specimen that can hit, hit for power, run and play Gold Glove defense in center field.
FanGraphs, a forerunner in baseball’s analytical immersion, weighed in early on Robert.
Per the site’s early WAR ratings, Robert is tied for No. 3 overall in major-league baseball with Aaron Judge and Jose Ramirez at 0.9. Mike Yastrzemski (Carl’s grandson) is first at 1.2 and former White Sox prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. and Shane Bieber are tied for second at 1.0.
“Robert’s fielding and baserunning create a very high floor for the 23-year-old,” FanGraphs wrote. “But how his bat develops at the big-league level will determine if he reaches his incredibly high ceiling. So far, Robert has lived up to his scouting report.”
Heading into Saturday’s play, Robert was hitting .327/.393/.491 with 2 home runs and 6 RBI. He also had all four of the Sox’s stolen bases.
The White Sox locked up their top prospect in early January with a six-year, $50 million contract. That was on top of the $26 million bonus they gave Robert to sign his first contract in May of 2017.
Call it blind faith in a business which features many more busts than booms, but the Sox are already seeing the benefits of having Robert in the lineup.
“I mean, he just turned 23 on Monday,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “He’s a (heck) of a lot more mature than I was at 23. It’s just been really fun to watch just how seamlessly he seemingly made this transition, and not just the transition to big leaguer. But even at-bat to at-bat, in terms of adjustments that he makes almost on the fly and instinctually, it’s really impressive. Anyone can see the athleticism. Anyone can see the tools.
“You go to the workout or a spring training game or minor league game or whatever, and he will jump off the field at you in terms of the tools. Until you are around him and you understand the work ethic and the focus and the ability to block out the hype or the expectations, it’s hard to really appreciate the makeup and the character. We are all seeing it first hand. There’s obviously, whether it’s the money or the prospect rankings or whatever, people are very excited to see this player this year.”
The early reviews are in: Robert is a freakishly skilled player that checks some boxes in the generational type of player department. He’s also calm and confident as his career begins to launch.
“Being with the team in spring training, I had the chance to play some exhibition games, it’s different,” Robert said through a translator. “I learned how to play at this level, how you have to play at this level. It was a good experience and put me in a good position for what is coming this season and in the future.”
Learning to deal with failure and bounce back right away is an obvious goal, but it’s easier said than done. Robert finally got his first test on that front Thursday night.
In the Sox’s 8-3 loss to the Brewers, Robert was 0-for-4 with 4 strikeouts. The golden sombrero.
It’s all part of the process, even for the chosen few.
“He’s probably going to be a little frustrated,” White Sox manager Rick Renteria said. “Coming into the dugout a little frustrated after the at-bats. But these are tremendously big learning experiences for him. We’ve talked about it. (The 4 strikeouts) does not take away from what this young man is going to be capable of doing.”