Luis Robert

Inside the play that has White Sox fans salivating over a fully healthy Luis Robert

1114_luis_robert.jpg
AP

Inside the play that has White Sox fans salivating over a fully healthy Luis Robert

It was a play that lasted only 10 seconds during a recent game in the Arizona Fall League, but those 10 seconds gave the White Sox another glimpse into what Luis Robert can do on a baseball field.

And it’s electric.

It all started with Robert hitting a routine ground ball to the left side of the infield. The third baseman gobbled up the baseball and took his time throwing to first. Bad idea. Robert was racing down the line at warp speed and beat it out.

Moments later, Robert stole second base on a nifty head-first slide despite a perfect throw by the catcher. Robert made it look effortless.

Then came the moment that should have White Sox fans salivating.

A ball was caught in deep left-center field, which could easily get Robert to third, but he wanted more.

“I saw that the fly ball was hit kind of deep,” Robert explained through a translator, teammate Laz Rivera. “I was just thinking about scoring straight from second, but coach (Dave) Anderson stopped me at third. As the shortstop was walking in, I felt like he got overconfident and I took advantage of it.”

Robert dashed for home. The throw arrived. Robert slid to his right, reached out his left hand to touch home plate. He safely avoided the tag, scoring from second base on a sacrifice fly.

I asked him: Can you do this routinely without stopping at third?

“It depends on how deep the fly ball is and how good the center fielder hits the cutoff man,”  Robert answered.

How many times have you done it?

“I’ve never done it,” he said. “But I’m confident I can do it.”

Even though he’s been on everyone’s radar since the White Sox signed him as a 21-year-old Cuban phenom in 2017, the Arizona Fall League felt like Robert's official coming out party. Thumb injuries limited him to only 45 games in 2018 with Class A Kannapolis and Class A Winston-Salem. Fully healthy now, Robert proved to be one of the best players in the AFL, facing some of the best pitching prospects in the minor leagues.

He finished with a slash line of .324/.367/.432 with two home runs, 10 RBIs and five stolen bases in 18 games. Thanks to a 14-game hitting streak, he also won an AFL Player of the Week Award.

Since the White Sox signed the 6-foot-3 outfielder, he’s had trouble staying healthy with two thumb injuries, a knee injury and a few aches and pains along the way. It’s left some to question whether Robert will be able to stay healthy.

He says not to worry. There’s been a reason for his ailments.

“I felt like I was getting injured last year because I had a year and a half without playing and now I feel like I’m ready to go,” said Robert, who was unable to play games after he defected from Cuba in 2016 until he joined the Dominican Summer League White Sox toward the end of the 2017 season.

“Every injury is a learning experience,” he said. “Everything I’m doing right now is helping my body become better."

Robert mentioned two big plans for him during the offseason. The first is working to improve his swing.

“I should be practicing hitting curveballs more often, but I feel like I’m in a good place right now to hit them. I’m working on more counts, I’m seeing more pitches and waiting for my pitch,” Robert said.

He’s also moving to Tampa, Florida, where he wants to get a house for him and his family, who are currently living in the Dominican Republic.

“So we can be together,” Robert said.

It’s not a coincidence that Robert has chosen to live in Tampa since that’s also the winter home for fellow Cuban Yoan Moncada, who's been a mentor to Robert since the White Sox signed him. Moncada is in Glendale this month getting in some extra training at Camelback Ranch in preparation for next season.

“He’s always taking care of me,” Robert said of Moncada. “He’s always giving me advice on what I should or shouldn’t be doing on the baseball field and off the baseball field.”

After watching Robert on the baseball field in the Fall League, spring training cannot come soon enough.

Luis Robert highlights White Sox prospects as Arizona Fall League concludes

Luis Robert highlights White Sox prospects as Arizona Fall League concludes

The Arizona Fall League wrapped up on Thursday for White Sox prospects and the overall results were mixed.

Perhaps the most important thing from the seven-week season is that Luis Robert began to show his potential. After injuries limited him to just 50 games in 2018, his first season playing in the U.S., Robert added 18 games and 79 plate appearances against much more experienced players in Arizona.

Robert, still just 21 and the second-youngest hitter on the team, hit in his first 14 games in the AFL and tallied a hit in 16 of his 18 games. He did this while missing over a week in the middle of the season due to a hamstring injury. The Cuban outfielder’s final numbers are .324/.367/.432. He had five walks, which isn’t an inspiring total, but he kept the strikeouts down at 13.

One of the things that still hasn’t shown in games very often is Robert’s power. He didn’t hit a home run in the 2018 minor league season, but it’s possible his thumb injury was affecting his ability to hit for power. Robert’s power didn’t come through much in the AFL, but there was definitely improvement. He hit two home runs and had two doubles, but this home run last week was definitely seductive.

The AFL isn’t make or break for prospects. Adam Engel hit .403/.523/.642 in the AFL in 2015 and hasn’t shown the ability to hit in the majors yet. Still, Robert showed flashes of his potential with the bat while also causing chaos on the base paths with five stolen bases in five attempts.

Robert was one of seven White Sox minor leaguers who played for the Glendale Desert Dogs. Glendale finished the season 12-18.

The next biggest hitting prospect on Glendale was Luis Alexander Basabe. Basabe struggled in his time in Arizona, but did show some of what has makes him an intriguing prospect.

Basabe hit just .180, but did draw 12 walks in 63 plate appearances. The 22-year-old isn’t known for hitting for average. He is a career .258 hitter in six minor league seasons, including a .251 mark in Double-A in the second half of 2018. However, if he can draw walks at a high rate while bringing good speed in the outfield, he can have some value.

Overall, hitting .180/.333/.180 is a disappointing stint, but there was at least one positive with the walk rate.

Laz Rivera rounded out White Sox hitters with a line of .215/.271/.246. Rivera had solid stints at both levels of Single-A in 2018, his first full season of pro ball, but the AFL showed he may find the adjustment to Double-A a tough one.

On the pitching side the only marquee name was Zack Burdi, but he got shut down early in the season. He made only five appearances (4 2/3 innings, 3 unearned runs, 5 strikeouts, 1 walk, 2 hits), but Rick Hahn said there’s nothing to be concerned about.

Tanner Banks (4.43 ERA, 10 strikeouts, 5 walks, 30 hits in 22 1/3 innings), Zach Thompson (2.70 ERA, 15 strikeouts, 6 walks, 10 hits in 13 1/3 innings) and Danny Dopico (6.57 ERA, 15 strikeouts, 12 walks, 10 hits in 12 1/3 innings) also pitched for Glendale. All three will be 25 or older when 2019 rolls around.

Luis Robert has opposing players in awe: 'What’s he going to do? How far is he going to hit it?'

0117_luis_robert.jpg
AP

Luis Robert has opposing players in awe: 'What’s he going to do? How far is he going to hit it?'

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.”