SURPRISE, Ariz. — When Luis Robert comes to the plate, you can’t take your eyes off him.
This isn’t just me talking. It seems like everybody stops. Fans, coaches, teammates, security guards, birds.
Even Robert’s opponents pause with curiosity, wondering what might happen next.
“I hear them in the dugout. They’re all at the top of the dugout when he comes up to hit, so that just tells you how they feel about him as well,” said Charlie Poe, Robert’s hitting coach here in the Arizona Fall League as well as with the Class A Winston-Salem Dash. “I see them, I hear them in the dugout. ‘He’s up! He’s up! What’s he going to do? How far is he going to hit it?’”
It would be one thing if these were high school or college players talking about the Cuban phenom. But no, these players gawking at Robert are just like him, some of the best prospects in the game, in awe of the potential of this possible future White Sox star.
Robert has left such an impression, these players from other teams often come to the field before games just to watch Robert take batting practice.
As Poe explained, “He does things on the field that make you say 'wow' because you can tell he’s going to be good for a very long time.”
The first thing you notice when you see him on the field is his size.
At 6-foot-3, 185 pounds, he’s cut like an NFL wide receiver.
A scout told Mike Ferrin of MLB Network Radio: “When he dies, he wants to come back for a second life in Luis Robert’s body.”
After thumb injuries limited him to 50 games during the 2018 regular season, Robert has been making up for lost time in the AFL. In 17 games, he has slashed .329/.373/.443, showing the White Sox and everybody else what he can do. Monday, he was named the AFL Player of the Week, and he recently had a 14-game hitting streak snapped, a feat that considering the competition here should not be overlooked.
“This is some of the best of the best in the minor leagues,” Poe said. “It’s pretty tough to have a two-game hitting streak with some of these pitchers that they’re throwing out there. For him to have a 14-game hitting streak — and he wasn’t playing every day — to keep that consistent every day is really hard because we see some good arms out here. Everybody throws 95-plus and he was very consistent using the whole field and his main thing was just getting good pitches to hit. He wasn’t jumping out at the ball. He was being more consistent, tracking pitches and putting himself in good counts and that’s what he was doing very well. That’s why he was hitting for so long.”
One of Robert’s highlights this fall was a majestic home run he hit last week in Mesa. He demolished the baseball with such authority, those in attendance saw their jaws drop to the ground.
“Everybody in the stadium was just like, ‘Ahhhhhh.’ Big wows,” Poe said about the reaction to Robert’s mammoth blast.
One of Robert’s biggest challenges is the language barrier. The Cuban native is trying to learn English. Just about every day he tries to learn a new word with Poe. His new favorite word is “perfect.” Whenever Robert hits the ball on the screws, he’ll see Poe and tell him: “Purrfect, C-Po, purrrrrfect!”
Despite his impressive talent, Robert is not a finished product. He still needs plenty of seasoning in the minor leagues. He’ll likely spend most of 2019 at Double-A Birmingham.
The key for him is to learn, develop and yes, stay healthy.
“You can tell his ceiling is very high and he’s going to do a lot of good things in this game,” Poe said.
Besides working with Robert, Poe has also been the hitting coach for some of the top offensive prospects in the White Sox organization: Eloy Jimenez, Luis Basabe, Blake Rutherford, Nick Madrigal, Micker Adolfo, Luis Gonzalez and Gavin Sheets.
He knows firsthand what the White Sox have in the minors and what will eventually be headed to the majors with Robert.
“They’re coming,” Poe said. “There’s a lot of good young players in this organization that will be in Chicago in the next coming years. It’s going to be fun to watch, because they are coming.”