Luis Robert

Watch Luis Robert rope a triple for his first hit of spring training

Watch Luis Robert rope a triple for his first hit of spring training

Of all the excitement surrounding the White Sox entering 2020, Luis Robert might have the most juice right now.

After dominating three levels of the minors last season and fresh off signing a lucrative contract extension before even playing in a big league game, Robert has plenty of buzz around him. On Tuesday, he showed off a little bit of why in Cactus League action.

Robert roped a ball into the right-center field gap and raced to third for a triple.


Robert is known for his power and speed combination, which led to a 30-30 season in the minors last year. This is a good example of it. 

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Talkin' lineups: Rick Renteria hints at how he'll stack up White Sox hitters

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USA TODAY

Talkin' lineups: Rick Renteria hints at how he'll stack up White Sox hitters

GLENDALE, Ariz. — There is far too much attention paid to lineups. The idea should be simple: have nine good hitters that can all do damage at any time. Obviously, that's easier said than done. But the point is that who the hitters are is of far more important than where they hit.

Still, there are few things that cause more fan consternation than how a manager sorts his hitters on a daily basis.

Rick Renteria is often resistant to discuss how he's planning to line guys up, especially this far out from Opening Day. But Thursday at Camelback Ranch, the skipper provided plenty of insight into certain elements of his lineup construction, perhaps as good a sign as any that things have entered a different mode for the White Sox.

Nothing was concrete, of course, but Renteria made it clear that Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada will occupy the first and second spots in the order.

"I still consider Timmy Anderson or Moncada a possibility at the top of the order, one or the other in vice-versa positions," Renteria said. "I want to see them and I want to be able to see beyond that with some of the youngsters that we have in camp."

That makes perfect sense after the huge seasons Anderson and Moncada each had in 2019. Anderson won a big league batting title by lifting his average nearly .100 points from where it was a season prior. Moncada emerged as the best all-around hitter on the team a year after striking out 217 times. Having them in front of big boppers like Jose Abreu, Edwin Encarnacion and Eloy Jimenez shouldn't be a controversial topic.

But it is, at least in certain corners of White Sox Twitter. The historically high BABIPs posted by Anderson and Moncada — in other words, they hit into a statistically significant amount of good fortune — have triggered questions of how they'll be able to repeat their production. The pair’s successes in 2019 came from their aggressive approaches at the plate. That also meant few walks. And there's an argument to be made that if you're not walking, you shouldn't be batting at the top of a lineup.

Renteria, on the other hand, doesn't care how players get on base, as long as they get on.

"I think it would be safe to say if you're getting on base, whether by walk or by hit, at a pretty high rate, it's probably kind of a wash," Renteria said. "The difference would be simply that maybe some individuals take a pitcher deeper into a count in a particular at-bat. But even those guys that are high average guys that may not prototypically fit your on-base percentage profile. They end up probably fouling off a lot of pitches, as well, so they end up still driving that pitch count up."

I don’t know if that will soothe the concerns of worriers, but it doesn’t sound like protests will prevent Renteria from putting Anderson and Moncada first when he makes his lineup for the opener on March 26.

Related: What's the deal with second base at Sox camp?

One player who won't be there: Luis Robert.

"I wouldn't consider Robert right now, as we're standing here today, to be the leadoff hitter," Renteria said. "I think we have enough guys that allow him to transition in the lower part of the order right now.

"See where he starts to develop and if he starts to evolve into somebody that shows us he's also, at the major league level now — and I expect and I anticipate that somewhere in the near future we will see that, that he is another guy that develops into being anyone that can hit between one and five.

"I think his skill set lends itself to being able to be potentially a leadoff-type guy, but with the power he has, the on-base and slugging he has, he can filter into the middle, as well."

That makes sense, even if Robert seems like someone whose endless tools would make him a prime top-of-the-order candidate. Robert will get his first taste of the major leagues when the 2020 season begins and dialing down the pressure by keeping him out of that leadoff glare would certainly have its benefits.

One more thing from Renteria that ought to be of interest: consistency. The skipper said he's planning to go with a set lineup (for the most part) throughout the season, something that stems from the White Sox new-look group of position players. With Encarnacion, Robert, Yasmani Grandal, Nomar Mazara and eventually Nick Madrigal joining Anderson, Moncada, Abreu and Jimenez, the puzzle pieces just seem to fit together a little easier.

That means far fewer lineup changes from one day to the next during the season. Good news for those who grew tired of the 143 different combinations the White Sox trotted out in 2019.

"I’ll be honest, I’d like to say that I feel more comfortable this year in telling you that there’s probably going to be a more consistent set of guys, one through nine," Renteria said. "Will there be a tweak here or there? Yeah, absolutely. I’m not going to hold myself to not making adjustments as the season is going on and what the guys are doing in a particular moment in time. It would be foolish for me to lock myself into doing something that’s not conducive to helping us put together a lineup on a particular day.

"But I think we’re getting to a point where it’s some consistency and hopefully, that’ll give us the ability to allow you guys to see the same guys in maybe the same slots throughout the course of a season.

"It stems from the fact that now the cast members have changed. And so it extends the lineup a little bit more and gives you more depth. ... It gives you the luxury of being able to slot them in a particular place on a consistent basis. That, coupled with the fact that our young players have grown and developed and have started to flourish, it gives me comfort in knowing and believing that they can slot into certain areas consistently over the course of a season."

And there's the big takeaway. Not that Renteria was happy to be rouletting his way through lineups last season but that a collection of more talented, more entrenched players gives him the luxury of being consistent. The players are better and more established, and the White Sox are more likely to win because of it. That will also manifest itself in a more consistent lineup.

A lot can and will happen over the course of 2020 to shake up Renteria's February plans. But right now, he's eyeing consistency at the top of and throughout his batting order. You'll have to wait until March 26 to see the whole thing. Until then, you can start filling in the blanks.

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The story of Luis Robert's mammoth home run over the bull in Durham

The story of Luis Robert's mammoth home run over the bull in Durham

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Home runs simply don’t sound like this.

“We were all in awe.”

Those who were there say they’ve never seen one hit like this, either.

“It just disappeared into the night. The ball just kept on truckin’.”

Last August, White Sox prized outfield prospect Luis Robert grabbed a brand new bat in the Charlotte Knights dugout. From the on-deck circle, he joked to his teammates he was going to hit a home run.

“Because when I get a new bat I usually hit homers,” Robert said.

What happened next on this memorable night in Durham, N.C., only adds to the legend of Robert. He is still in the infancy of his young baseball career, but is already telling a special, even mythical story that will soon be adding many chapters when he makes his major league debut this spring in Chicago.

Those who witnessed Robert completely obliterate this one helpless baseball say they will never forget what they saw. They’re still talking about it six months later.

“I think everyone just looked at each other like, did that really just happen?” said Nick Madrigal, who was standing on first base.

Robert’s towering home run went so far into the darkness, nobody has any idea where it actually landed, which is even more perplexing considering what stands in left field at Durham Bulls Athletic Park, the Triple-A stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays.

First, there’s a 32-foot high fence they call the Blue Monster, named after the famous Green Monster at Fenway Park. Beyond that, there’s a concourse and concession area. And even beyond that, stands a massive 25-foot high snorting bull, made famous in the 1988 movie, "Bull Durham."

Durham Bulls players win a free steak whenever they hit the bull with a home run.

Robert’s homer sailed high over everything: the fence, the concession stand, even the enormous bull. Nothing but gravity could stop it.

“That was honestly the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. He should have gotten a steak for hitting it over the bull,” catcher Zack Collins said.

Robert believes it was the hardest contact he made on a baseball last year. Watching as the ball left the stadium (and possibly the city of Durham) in a heartbeat, his teammates aren’t going to disagree with him.

“One thing that stands out about that home run is how fast it got out. It got out in what felt like a matter of seconds,” Madrigal said. “It was still going by the time it got over the bull. That was one of the hardest hit home runs I’ve ever seen.”

Everyone in the ballpark watched in awe as the ball rocketed into infinity, everyone except Robert, of all people.

“When I hit that ball, I didn’t follow it. I didn’t know how far the ball went,” Robert explained through team interpreter Billy Russo. “Then my teammates told me how far it went and then I saw the video and I was impressed with myself. I saw in the news that they didn’t know if the ball has landed yet.”

Maybe it still hasn’t.

“The pitcher knew it immediately,” said Danny Mendick, who was playing shortstop that night. “And everyone (on the Bulls) just put their head down and was like, ‘Let’s just pretend this didn’t happen.’”

Robert began to realize the sheer enormity of his home run as soon as he trotted to first base.

“I remember I was running the bases and the first baseman said, ‘Damn bro,’” Robert said. “And the Latinos from the other team were saying, ‘You are an abusador.’”

That’s Spanish for the word “beast.”

“What I remember about that game was that homer. He hit the ball really high and it was over the bull,” said Yoan Moncada, who happened to be on a rehab assignment and batted in front of Robert that night. “It was impressive. When I played in Triple-A, I didn’t see anybody hit a homer like that.”

Which begs the question: has anyone ever hit a ball that far at that ballpark?

Scott Strickland is the assistant general manager of operations for the Durham Bulls. He’s worked there for 16 years. Is Robert’s home run the farthest ball he’s ever seen hit there?

“Yes. I would agree with that. I would absolutely agree with that,” Strickland said. “The way it disappeared, everyone was in shock. It was very quiet in the ballpark because it was so shockingly well struck.”

How far did it actually travel? No one will ever know, but what about an estimate?

“That ball more than likely landed on the street that’s behind the office building,” Strickland said.

So for the record, that would mean Robert hit the baseball over the fence, over the concession stand, over the 25-foot bull and now over an office building.

“I would estimate that he hit it north of 450, but probably between 450 and 475," Strickland said. "The hard part there is, that ball was still going up. It’s not like it was coming down as it was going over the bull’s head. It was still going up.”

That sounds more like over 500 to me.

And here’s the crazy part. Robert doesn’t think this was the longest home run he hit last season.

“The farthest I think was the one I hit in Birmingham. It was over the scoreboard,” Robert said.

If you’re wondering whatever happened to the bat Robert used to launch this majestic home run, it didn’t have much of a shelf life.

He says it eventually broke.

Robert played 47 games for Charlotte last season, slashing .297/.341/.634. The rest of the International League likely rejoiced when he signed that big extension with the White Sox this offseason, basically punching his ticket for the major leagues on Opening Day.

“He had played so well against us. The question was already going around, ‘What in the world is he doing down here?’ And then he hit that one,” Strickland said of Robert’s home run. “If there was a debate at all of whether or not this kid is a future star or a future big leaguer, then that question was 100 percent answered in that one swing.”

Somewhere somebody probably has the baseball from that one swing.

That is, unless it’s still going.

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