Luis Robert

Mike Trout's South Side slugfest sparks thoughts of White Sox rebuild yielding its own offensive superstar

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USA TODAY

Mike Trout's South Side slugfest sparks thoughts of White Sox rebuild yielding its own offensive superstar

It’s overzealous to imagine that any rebuild will produce a superstar as good as Mike Trout.

Baseball’s best player did his thing this weekend on the South Side, most notably with a five-hit, five-RBI, two-homer game Saturday night.

But while the White Sox rebuilding effort likely won’t yield one player that does everything Trout does and as well, there are players either already playing in the majors or still developing in the minor leagues that have superstar potential and superstar expectations. Other successful rebuilds have produced multiple superstars: The Cubs have Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javy Baez, while the Houston Astros have Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman. Those top-billed players are of course surrounded by plenty of others who make those teams championship caliber.

The White Sox are trying to accomplish the same kind of thing.

We’ve seen that the mere presence of a once-in-a-lifetime player like Trout does not a perennial contender make. The Los Angeles Angels have played in a grand total of three playoff games and won none of them during Trout’s career, now in its seventh season. But what if the White Sox are able to stick one of the game’s best hitters in their lineup every day?

“Anybody would be happy to have the type of talent,” manager Rick Renteria said before Sunday’s game. “I’m sure that someday soon we’ll be able to do something like that and be very happy that we’re in that position.”

The most obvious candidate to achieve superstardom is Eloy Jimenez, baseball’s No. 3 prospect and the top-ranked prospect in the White Sox loaded farm system. Jimenez already has monster expectations after turning in a .337/.384/.577 slash line to go along with 22 home runs and 75 RBIs in his first full season in the organization. The fan base seemed to welcome each homer and extra-base hit this summer with calls for his promotion to the big leagues.

Fans — and most likely the White Sox front office, too — have been dreaming about slotting Jimenez into the middle of the batting order ever since he was acquired in the Crosstown swap with the Cubs last summer, and he figures to make his way to the majors relatively soon. The kind of power bat he swings could make for the kind of home-run show Trout put on Saturday night.

While fans have perhaps decreased their expectations for Yoan Moncada during his strikeout-heavy 2018 campaign, the White Sox second baseman is not far removed from top-prospect status and superstar potential. The team still believes he can achieve it, and the frequent flashes of brilliance coupled with Moncada’s still-young age of 23 make it look anything but impossible.

Trout has led baseball in on-base percentage in two of the last three seasons, owning the American League’s highest mark in that third one. He entered Sunday’s series finale with a staggering .465 on-base percentage in 2018. Well, that’s the attribute the White Sox point to when talking about Moncada, who had a .377 OBP with Triple-A Charlotte last season and a combined .407 OBP in the Boston Red Sox system in 2016. This season, despite a .223 batting average and a major league leading 193 strikeouts, he still boasts an on-base percentage above .300, thanks in part to a team-high 58 walks.

Now those numbers are hardly Trout-esque, but they do highlight what the White Sox believe is the best part of Moncada’s game, a part that could power him to eventual superstardom, even if he hasn’t exactly blown the doors off his first full season in the majors.

“This kid’s got a world of hitting ability, blessed with fantastic tools, power,” general manager Rick Hahn said last week. “The plate discipline’s one of the things that’s tough to teach, and he already comes with that. So the things that we do have to teach in order to decrease those strikeouts a little bit down the road, that’s a workable project.”

Heading back to the minors, there is another position player who could one day be a White Sox superstar: Luis Robert. Just 21, the Cuban-import center fielder still has only played 50 minor league baseball games in the United States. Thumb injuries limited his first full season in the White Sox organization, and he finished the year without a home run. But he’s been talked about as a player with many tools, with rave reviews about his speed, his glove and his bat.

The power, too, is expected to return, simply a side effect of the thumb injuries.

“I do think one thing to keep in mind about Luis is as we see all the time with thumb or wrist or hand injuries, that it does take a little time for the power to come back, and I think we’ve seen that,” Hahn said. “He’s swinging the bat well, we’ve seen that plus hit tool. The power hasn’t quite been there yet this year, but with two DL stints for a hand and for a thumb injury, that’s not a shock. I look forward to seeing where he’s at next spring.”

Is Robert heading for big league superstardom? It’s way too early to tell at this point, considering he’s played just 32 games at Class A Winston-Salem and is still so young and so inexperienced. But he’s ranked as the organization’s No. 3 prospect and as the No. 25 prospect in the game, and if the batting practice shows he put on during spring training are any indication, the guy can do some special things with the bat.

It goes to show how insanely good Trout is that discussions of each of these young White Sox reaching superstar status revolve around one or a few of the skills that Trout displays on a daily basis. Jimenez, Moncada and Robert reaching their potential and becoming among the game’s best hitters could still place them nowhere near Trout. That’s hardly a knock against them.

The White Sox, of course, would prefer to have multiple stars, if not super, on their roster if it means competing for championships on an annual basis, as opposed to the Angels’ situation, steaming toward another postseason-less campaign while Trout is once again in the conversation to win the AL MVP. And of course there’s the possibility of the White Sox producing one or more pitching superstars. Michael Kopech, Carlos Rodon and Dylan Cease all have their own batches of star-level expectations and could lead a star-studded rotation.

Having a Trout might be out of the question for the White Sox — and 28 other teams around the game, for that matter — but they could be developing their own superstar right now to lead the team from rebuilding mode to contention mode. And once contention mode arrives, having a bona fide, one-of-the-best-in-the-game superstar in the thick of that lineup could mean the difference between contending for a championship and winning one.

Luis Robert headlines group of White Sox prospects going to Arizona Fall League

Luis Robert headlines group of White Sox prospects going to Arizona Fall League

The minor league baseball season is winding down, with the regular season for most leagues ending on Monday, but the Arizona Fall League is right around the corner.

The White Sox are sending four players from MLB Pipeline's top 30 prospects, including No. 3 prospect Luis Robert. Zack Burdi, Luis Alexander Basabe and Laz Rivera are the other prospects heading to Arizona. Pitchers Tanner Banks and Zach Thompson round out the six White Sox representatives on the Glendale Desert Dogs.

The AFL is an offseason league that features a lot of prospects that are generally in the higher levels of the minors. Based on the rosters announced on Thursday, 17 of MLB Pipeline's top 100 prospects are heading to the league, including Robert.

For Robert, it is a chance to get more playing time. This year was his first playing stateside since signing with the White Sox in 2017. He sprained a ligament in his left thumb in spring training and didn't play until June 5. On June 28 Robert had a four-hit game for the Winston-Salem Dash, but re-injured his thumb and didn't play again until July 31.

Not only did the injury limit Robert to fewer than 50 games this season, but he also appeared to struggle to get back to form after re-injuring it. Robert entered Thursday hitting .188 for the Dash in August after hitting .300 in June when he first played for the Dash.

The AFL will give Robert a chance to get some much-needed plate appearances after missing so much time in 2018.

That also applies to Burdi. Burdi was with Triple-A Charlotte and appeared on the verge of getting called up to the White Sox when he got shut down in July of 2017 and eventually had Tommy John surgery. Burdi was out for just over a calendar year. He returned to action with the White Sox Arizona League rookie affiliate in early August. He has made seven appearances since his return. Burdi can stay in Arizona to get more innings and work his way back to being the fireballing potential closer he was before the injury.

Basabe is another notable prospect heading to the desert. The 22-year-old earned a promotion from Winston-Salem to Double-A Birmingham in mid June and has held his own. Basabe hit .266/.370/.502 with the Dash and entered Thursday hitting .262/.356/.453 with the Barons. Basabe has not hit for average, but has shown the ability to draw walks and hit for power (15 home runs, 43 extra base hits in 115 games) while playing a premium position in centerfield.

Rivera has been a breakout player of sorts in the White Sox minor leagues this year. After being drafted in the 28th round of last year's draft, Rivera was on fire in Single-A Kannapolis. He hit .346 in 63 games with the Intimidators and earned a promotion to Winston-Salem. The 23-year-old entered Thursday hitting .281/.314/.457 with Winston-Salem. Rivera can prove his success this season is for real and can move up his prospect status with a good showing in Arizona against more advanced pitching than he has seen in Single A.

Banks, 26, and Thompson, 24, aren't high-profile prospects, but have had some success in Double-A this season. Banks has a 2.83 ERA in nine starts with the Barons after getting promoted from Winston-Salem. Thompson, a reliever, had a sub-2 ERA at both of those levels this season.

The AFL runs from Oct. 9 to Nov. 15.

Luis Robert is off the disabled list, back in action and already hitting at Winston-Salem

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USA TODAY

Luis Robert is off the disabled list, back in action and already hitting at Winston-Salem

Luis Robert's first full season in the White Sox organization has been defined by injuries, but the team's No. 3 prospect is finally back in action with Class A Winston-Salem.

Robert came off the disabled list Tuesday and batted leadoff for the Dash, his first action at the Class A level since late June, when he hit the DL with his second thumb injury of the year.

The first thumb injury for Robert this season prevented him from making his season debut until June 5. He fared well in just 13 games with Class A Kannapolis, slashing .286/.360/.400, and headed back to Winston-Salem, where he played in only eight games (with a .300/.389/.333 slash line) before going back on the DL.

Robert recently completed a five-game stint in the Arizona Rookie League to get ready for his return. Winston-Salem manager Omar Vizquel put Robert in the leadoff spot Tuesday, and the Cuban import singled in his first at-bat.

It's hard to say where Robert's development is at the moment and what his timeline to reach the South Side looks like. He just turned 21 a few days ago and until this summer had no minor league baseball experience other than 28 games in the Dominican Winter League last year. He impressed during spring training though saw minimal Cactus League action because of the thumb injury, sustained when he slid into second base during a game in which he later hit a home run.

Injuries have befallen many of the White Sox top prospects this season. Robert was joined by pitching prospect Alec Hansen in the "springtime injury keeps player from making season debut until June" department. Jake Burger will wind up missing the entire season and beyond due to a pair of Achilles tears. Micker Adolfo is out for the remainder of this season after having Tommy John surgery. Dane Dunning has been on the disabled list for weeks.

It hasn't been enough to darken what appears to be a very bright future for the organization. But the injuries have generated speculation about how the rebuild's timeline could be affected, if at all.