GLENDALE, Ariz. — It’s early in spring training, but so far White Sox rookie Luis Robert is the unofficial leader of the Cactus League in "oohs" and "ahs" coming from these Arizona crowds.
Those same sounds will be amplified tenfold in a few weeks, when the 22-year-old makes his major league debut on Opening Day.
Whether it’s his bat, his glove or his speed around the bases, Robert has been a sight to see.
“He’s a special player. I don’t think there’s anything he can’t do on a baseball field,” White Sox catcher James McCann said. “You hear the label of a five-tool player, but you don’t hear it thrown around very often. I have a hard time saying that he’s not a five-tool player.”
Eloy Jimenez continues to say that Robert will be the next Mike Trout, only the best player on the planet. It’s the highest of praise for any young prospect, especially since Robert has yet to play a single game in the majors.
But Jimenez is unwavering in his belief that Robert can reach such meteoric heights.
“Because he’s got five tools, the effort he brings every single day, that’s why I have the confidence to say that,” Jimenez said about the Trout comparison.
What is Robert capable of in 2020?
As much as White Sox coaches want to pump the brakes on the Robert hype, his teammates can’t help themselves.
“I think he can win Rookie of the Year,” infielder Danny Mendick said. “I’m looking at him right now. He’s a stud. He hit that ball (for a home run on Saturday). It was a rocket.”
McCann had a perfect angle on that home run. He was standing on deck when Robert crushed the ball over the left field fence off Texas Rangers pitcher Juan Nicasio.
“He’s got unbelievable bat speed. When he connects, the ball jumps. It’s special,” McCann said. “He’s the kind of hitter that when you’re at home and you’re scrolling through the TV and he’s coming up to bat, you stop and you watch because something special is going to happen.
“I don’t like to put labels on guys, but I think the sky’s the limit.”
Yet despite such glowing words from his teammates, be prepared for this next sentence: Luis Robert will struggle in 2020. At least, if he’s a human being he will.
Even Jimenez believes that. He knows from experience. Last season, the Kansas City Royals spotted a weakness with Jimenez on Opening Day, noticing how he had the propensity to chase balls out of the strike zone. So for the first two months of the year, every team followed that same playbook against Jimenez until he started to lay off of them.
Robert might end up with a similar scouting report when he makes his debut — against those same Royals.
“Every young guy in the league has that problem, except for (New York Mets first baseman) Pete Alonso. He was really good, but what can I say?” Jimenez said. “The first time in the majors, they’re going to try to get him to chase pitches in the dirt. I think (Robert) is going to have a little bit of trouble with that for the first month, maybe because of the cold weather. He’s going to try to do a little too much, but he’s going to be OK.”
The key for Robert will be making adjustments, something Mendick witnessed first-hand last season.
“I’ve seen him, and he makes adjustments quick,” said Mendick, who played with Robert at Triple-A Charlotte in July and August. “You look at a lot of young guys, and they let things get to them. You let an at-bat dictate how the rest of the day goes. That’s the one thing I see in him. He just goes out there and it looks like every at-bat, he’s just worried about that pitch, and that’s what makes him so successful.
"All of a sudden you’re 0-for-3 with three Ks. He doesn’t care. He gets up there in the fourth at-bat, and he hits an absolute rocket. He can make an adjustment quickly.”
Robert has been working with new White Sox hitting coach Frank Menechino. They’re no strangers to each other. Menechino was Robert’s hitting coach last season in Charlotte.
He’s keeping things simple with Robert.
“He hunts the fastball. He’s going to hunt the fastball on the big part of the plate and react to bad breaking balls, react to bad sliders, curveballs, changeups that are up (in the zone),” Menechino said. “We’re just working on controlling the strike zone and swinging at pitches we’re looking for. He’s done a good job laying off some balls that are out of the strike zone, and he’s doing a really good job of getting the fastball that he wants and putting the barrel on them.”
What kind of hitter will Robert be right out of the gate?
“I don’t know,” Menechino said. “We’ll see what teams do to him. We’ll see how he adjusts to them, so right now we don’t know. In spring training, no one pitches you like they do in spring training.”
But even as Menechino downplays the Robert hype, he knows what this baseball specimen is capable of.
“I’ve seen him hit balls with one hand out of the park.”
In terms of fielding, Robert has the wheels to cover a ton of ground in center field. With Jimenez on one side of him and Nomar Mazara on the other, the White Sox need him to be aggressive.
No need to worry about that.
“He tries to catch every single ball,” Jimenez said with a laugh. “That is good. Also, he’s got to command in the outfield. He takes charge. That’s what you want to see when you have center fielder like that.”
The same goes with infielders like Mendick who have to venture into the shallow outfield grass for lazy pop flies. Robert wants to flag down those, as well.
“When we do pop fly communication (drills), he always wants to catch the ball. He’s always calling off left fielders, right fielders,” Mendick said. “The motive to go catch everything is really what makes him an elite outfielder. Sometimes you’ll see guys be timid and pull off. He’ll scream and say, 'I got it,' and he’ll go get it. He doesn’t care if sometimes he’ll look like a fool doing it.
"For being young, that’s a quality you want to have in a guy, because you know when you get older, it’s just going to come easier.”
If you’re looking for a stat projection for Robert in 2020, who really knows?
“We’re all going to find out," Menechino said. "He’s being challenged right now. We’ll find out how he does.”
Or if you’re Jimenez, you know exactly what Robert will do this season.
“You’re going to see,” Jimenez said confidently. “Wait for it. Just wait.”
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