GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Yoan Moncada hype was pretty huge. So was the Michael Kopech hype. And the Eloy Jimenez hype.
But like the answer to the question about who is the best Bears quarterback of all time, the answer to which White Sox prospect has the most hype always seems to be: the next one.
The next one is Luis Robert, and his hype is sky high for a somewhat unique reason among this generation of White Sox up-and-comers. He’s a true five-tool threat who can do everything on a baseball field. Jimenez went as far as calling him “the next Mike Trout” during SoxFest.
Ask his teammates what impresses them the most about Robert, and they take a broad approach to answering, as good an indication as any that what makes Robert so special isn’t one thing. It’s everything.
“All of his game, all the things he does on the field,” third baseman Yoan Moncada said Monday through team interpreter Billy Russo. “I can’t pick just one.”
“He can do it on the defensive side of the ball and the offensive side,” second baseman Nick Madrigal said. “He’ll hit a 400-plus-foot home run one day, and then he’ll make a Superman catch in the outfield. It seems like he can do it all. Stealing bases every day. He’s definitely the complete package.”
It’s that overflowing toolbox that has made the prospect evaluators out there peg Robert as the best of the White Sox bunch. Moncada, Jimenez, Kopech, Tim Anderson, Lucas Giolito. All those guys are cornerstones of this rebuilding project. But Robert has the potential to be the brightest star of all.
You only need a sampling of the highlights that accompanied his rapid rise through the minor league system in 2019, when he played at three different levels, to know this. He launched home runs, made highlight-reel grabs in center field, stole 36 bases and slashed .328/.376/.624.
Now he’s got a big-money contract that cleared the way for him to start the 2020 season on the big league roster and will keep him in a White Sox uniform for as many as eight seasons.
It’s all added up to huge expectations as he gets his first taste of the major leagues. Like Moncada and Jimenez before him, just huger.
“I am confident that I am going to have a very good year this year,” Robert said through Russo on Sunday. “I think my mind is strong and in the right place. What I did last year reinforced all the things that I know that I can do on the field. It helped me a lot.
“One of the things that I’m going to learn is that I’m going to need to make adjustments as quickly as possible, as fast as possible, because I know that in the major leagues, I won’t have too much time to waste.”
And so the question becomes whether Robert can live up to the hype. As Moncada and Giolito and Jimenez showed, growing pains would not be unexpected, and even the most hyped prospects who eventually became big league stars had to go through bumpy roads in the early going.
Moncada’s and Giolito’s struggles in their first full seasons in the majors were dramatic, with Moncada striking out 217 times and Giolito posting the worst statistics of any starter in the game. Jimenez hit 31 home runs as a rookie, but he also faced his share of struggles.
Fans are ready for Robert to set the major leagues on fire the same way he did the minors. Taking a little while to get that fire going would not be at all surprising.
“When I spoke to him once we extended him, I reached out to congratulate him and he texted me back: ‘It’s time to go to work,’” manager Rick Renteria said. “He knows this is just the first step, and I think he understands that there are a lot of people expecting so many different things.
“It’s just our job to make sure he understands: ‘Just go out there and play the game. You are not the only one here. There will be a lot of guys here who have to do their particular job and hopefully as you move along, you are able to balance it out.’
“You are always trying to prove you belong here. It takes a little time to ultimately settle down. It won’t be any different for him than any of the other guys.”
And that’s a resource Robert can lean on. The past experiences of Moncada, going through his struggles in 2018, or Kopech, making his big league debut to much fanfare, or Jimenez, admitting that he was a little too anxious when he arrived in the big leagues last Opening Day, can be of great assistance to Robert as he takes his own first steps as a major leaguer.
“The biggest and the key advice from me to him is just to be patient, be calm,” Moncada said. “He’s going to want to do a lot of things. ‘Just take your time.’ I’m going to be around him, (Jose Abreu) is going to be around him. For him it’s going to be very important to be patient and calm because he has the talent to do good things but he needs to also control all the world around him.”
“During SoxFest, we were talking about the things that I’m going to face during my first season in the major leagues. And I am pretty sure they are going to keep giving me advice throughout the whole season,” Robert said, “just about things that I need to improve, things I can do better or things that I’m going to face, how to manage those challenges or those situations. I know that I’m going to have them on my side, and they’re going to help me.”
At the same time, pressure doesn’t really seem to be a word Robert spends a lot of time thinking about.
“Since I signed with the team, I know the expectations have been high, but it hasn’t affected me at all,” he said. “This year won’t be any different. I just need to do my work.”
While it’s a good idea to lessen any pressure and temper expectations for a 22-year-old kid who’s never faced a major league pitch in his life, there’s a reason those expectations are as high as they are. There’s a reason he’s ranked as the No. 3 prospect in baseball.
Robert is really, really talented. And he can do just about anything you’d want a baseball player to do.
Can he live up to the hype? While the realistic answer is to be patient, you can’t help but see some of the giddiness breaking through.
“It just seems like he’s a different player out there, you know?” Madrigal said. “Sometimes when he’s locked in, it seems like he makes the game look pretty easy. One pitch, it looks like he gets fooled, and the next pitch, he’s hitting it out of the ballpark.”
“I think the fans are going to get crazy just watching him, what he’s capable of doing on the field,” Moncada said. “It’s going to be an exciting time for them. He can do a lot of stuff, and everybody’s going to be very, very happy and excited for him on the field and just watching what he’s doing.”
The Luis Robert Show debuts March 26 at Guaranteed Rate Field.