You've heard it from Rick Hahn plenty of times: The White Sox young players are not finished products.
When impatience pops up on social media, when calls for the White Sox to make moves that will produce an instant winner, this is an important thing to remember. The rebuild is ongoing, not steps from the finish line just waiting for a superstar free agent to push things into the next phase.
And there might be no better reminder of that fact than Luis Robert. He's the No. 4 prospect in the organization and is constantly earning rave reviews from every corner of the baseball world for his five-tool potential. He's a reason, all by himself, to be excited about the team's future, and it's because of that that some fans wonder why he can't get to the South Side sooner.
But with every tantalizing scouting report about Robert — about his speed, about his defense, about his bat — comes another example that his education is far from complete.
Look no further than the recent news involving Robert out in Arizona, where for the third time in the past year or so, the center fielder is sidelined with a thumb injury. It's not supposed to be serious — like the one that delayed his 2018 debut until June — and it's not supposed to be long before he's back in the White Sox lineup, but it's also not the first time he's injured his thumb while sliding into a base. And it's as good an example as any that there's more development and more teaching to be done when it comes to the 21-year-old, who's only played in 50 minor league games in the United States.
It figures that sliding will be part of that teaching plan after this latest thumb issue. But that's not all.
Robert is fast. Really fast. You might remember this highlight from Arizona Fall League, when he used that speed and his general aggressiveness on the base paths to score from second base on a sacrifice fly.
...advances to third on a sac fly by Yu Chang, and then breaks for home with the Scottsdale taking too long to get the throw in. Great hustle and heads up play Robert, all the way around the bases pic.twitter.com/R9amvbXELp— Kyle Glaser (@KyleAGlaser) November 9, 2018
But speed and using that speed wisely are two different things, so says Omar Vizquel. He was Robert's manager for a time last season at Class A Winston-Salem and is the new manager at Double-A Birmingham, where Robert will almost certainly spend some time in 2019, even if he doesn't start the campaign there.
"One thing is speed, and one thing is to know when to use it in situations. And one of the things with Luis is trying to teach him situations where he can take advantage of his speed," Vizquel said last month in Glendale, Arizona. "We don’t want him to go when a guy is pretty fast to the plate and is probably going to have a fastball. So he’s got to realize and learn those kinds of situations. We talk a lot about that. I know he can do it, I know he’s got some unbelievable speed, but if we can make him learn that aspect of the game, it’s going to be even better for him.
"He’s in the learning process right now with that. It’s amazing the raw tools that he has, even though that he hasn’t played this game for too long. And probably the language is also a barrier. It helped him out a lot that he is around guys that speak Spanish, also. He can continue, through the learning process, to improve."
It's happening in the field, too, where Robert's skill and aggressiveness means he's got range for days. But it's also led to something the White Sox see as a teaching opportunity. Take this seemingly awesome description of what Robert can do in the outfield.
"He’s an animal out there," Zack Collins said. "Ricky (Renteria) said that yesterday, he plays center field, left and right at the same time."
Sounds like Robert's got some ultimate range out there, which is true. But it was a different kind of comment from the skipper, who explained his thinking.
"The point to that conversation had to do with making sure you do what you’re capable of doing but still use the other facet of communicating with the corner positions," Renteria said. "There’s a way to approach fly balls in those general areas because you do have other defenders out there. And it’s something that will come with experience and time. We’re happy that we’ve got a guy that can cover the distance that he does.
"He’s ready to go. As experience and time starts to come into play, he’ll understand how to harness that aggressiveness in a very efficient way. And that’s part of the process. We’re really happy that, at least, that already is built in him, it’s just for us now to hone it in a little bit and I think he’ll do fine."
See? Robert might be generating "oohs" and "ahs" with the stuff he can do on the diamond. But that doesn't mean he's major league ready.
And the White Sox aren't expecting him to be at this point. They're expecting their player-development staff to help turn Robert into a major leaguer. That's what Vizquel, Renteria and others will be tasked with as Robert's career continues.
"He’s a shy guy," Vizquel said. "You have to know how to get to him because sometimes he feels bad that maybe he struck out or something like that. So you have to be slow with him, you have to know the time to talk to him about things. He’s been very receptive of information, and he realizes that he has still a lot to learn. We’re trying to help him with the language barrier and all that stuff. ... But he was great, he was pretty good on that last year."
Once Robert's raw talent can be turned into a more finished product, then the White Sox can reap the benefits as part of their planned perennial contender.