Eloy Jiménez has been planning for Luis Robert's rookie season from the time the two met.
"When I met him a couple years ago, I said, 'When we play together, I'm going to take care of you because you are my boy.'"
Though it's coming four months later than originally anticipated, Jiménez and Robert will finally be playing together when the White Sox start the shortened 2020 season at the end of the month.
Robert arrives at the major league level with all the hype in the world, more even than the amount Jiménez brought with him when he made his big league debut at the beginning of the 2019 season. He's a true five-tool threat who can do just about everything on a baseball field, and he dazzled minor league crowds last season with a combination of tape-measure home runs, blazing speed and highlight-reel catches in center field.
But he's never seen a major league pitch. He did get a big-money contract during the offseason, the same kind of deal Jiménez got ahead of his big league debut last year. But that won't make him immune from any necessary adjustments he'll need to make after getting his first taste of major league pitching. And with the schedule squeezed from the typical six months to a brief two-month sprint to the playoffs, he won't have much time to make them.
The good news for Robert — and fellow highly touted prospect Nick Madrigal, should he make it to the majors this season, too — is that he has a ton of talent and could well prove himself worthy of the massive expectations that have him setting the baseball world on fire and chasing AL Rookie of the Year honors.
"It's going to be a little bit hard because there's just going to be 60 games," Jiménez said Saturday. "But I think they have the talent to make that adjustment quick. They're going to be fine."
That confidence might prove warranted. But Jiménez is a talented hitter, too. And that didn't stop him from taking time to adjust to how major league pitchers were attacking him last year.
Yes, he finished his rookie campaign with 31 home runs, but the year was hardly a runaway success. After the White Sox played their 60th game in 2019, Jiménez was batting just .224 with a .273 on-base percentage, and he had missed a large chunk of games after spraining his ankle when he leaped into the outfield wall attempting to rob an unrobbale home run.
He obviously figured things out, not just turning in that big home-run total but delivering some memorable moments — the game-winning homer against the Cubs comes to mind — and catching fire in the season's final month. In his final 27 games last season, Jiménez slashed .363/.400/1.090 with nine home runs and 27 RBIs.
"I can say at the beginning I was just worrying about that I needed to play hard and I needed to do this and I needed to do that," Jiménez said. "But at the end, I just said, 'I'm going to play hard, and if it's happening, it's happening. If it's not, another day.'
"I think that helped me a lot, that got me out of the pressure and just go and have fun. For me, that was the key last year at the end of the season."
He'll probably give Robert some similar advice. Robert will have no shortage of help in the White Sox clubhouse, with his fellow Cubans Yoán Moncada and José Abreu plotting their own mentorship of the 22-year-old.
But Robert has a different challenge to face. Jiménez took advantage of baseball's typical six-month schedule to figure things out. Moncada took even longer, going through an entire season of poor results in 2018 before going to work in the offseason and breaking out in a big way in 2019. Robert will have just two months this season. And so it maybe shouldn't be surprising if he follows a similar path.
But those same players, two guys who know what it's like for it to take time for everything to come together, also believe in the hype surrounding Robert.
"Luis Robert is a great guy," Jiménez said. "Now, we are together. And he has kind of the same contract like me, and I know what it feels like and I'm going to help him.
"For me, it's going to be good. It's going to be a challenge, but it's going to be good."