GLENDALE, Ariz. — It's an all-important year for Luis Robert.
It seems like Robert's been around for a decently long time after signing as an international free agent in 2017. But he's played a grand total of 50 minor league games in the United States.
He's just 21 years old, but he fell behind a few of his fellow White Sox prospects, from a timing perspective, thanks to a season-long battle with injuries in 2018. Two thumb injuries did the most damage to his developmental timeline, keeping him from debuting until June and limiting his power once he did return.
"It was a season with a few bumps," Robert said through a team translator Sunday at Camelback Ranch. "I started playing good here in spring training and then had the injury. I came back, but I didn't perform the way that I like because of the injury, and then I re-injured my thumb. I came back stronger but I got injured again. But at the end, I think I finished the season strong. It was a learning experience and I think right now, I'm in a better position to have success this year."
Of course, this isn't to say that Robert is in any danger of falling out of the White Sox future plans. He's as much a part of those as he ever was, and his skills continue to earn rave reviews from anyone you ask. He's ranked by MLB Pipeline as the No. 4 prospect in the White Sox organization and the No. 40 prospect in the game.
But the White Sox will admit it's rather important that Robert stay healthy this season, continue his development and move through the minor league system toward the South Side so he can be a part of the much-anticipated transition from rebuilding mode to contending mode.
"Hopefully this year he gets a complete year under his belt healthy, which will, to be honest, tell us a lot about where he’s at," manager Rick Renteria said Sunday. "I think he’s made strides. We all love what he’s capable of doing, we all love the physical skill. He had a nice (Arizona) Fall League. He’s progressing, even though he’s had limited time due to the hand injury. But I think this year will be a big year for him in terms of his progression.
"Guys with talent like that seem to progress pretty quickly. So hopefully he’s one of those guys that’s able to do that, and see how it impacts us moving down the road at the major league level."
The Arizona Fall League performance was a mighty positive sign for those waiting to see what a healthy year for Robert might look like. He slashed .324/.367/.432 with a couple homers and 10 RBIs in 18 games. He wowed just about everyone with his talent. He scored from second base on a sacrifice fly.
"He’s got that type of talent," Renteria said. "I think he’s one of those guys that you want to see his overall game come into play. I think the experience that he’s going to gain this summer will play a big part. ... Guys like that, that skill set, hopefully they jump exponentially in terms of their growth and their maturation. We’re hopeful that he’s one of those guys. And looking at some of the video we did see and conversing with everybody, everybody sees where he’s going and we’re looking forward to seeing him continue to develop."
"It was very important for me because I just played (50) games in the regular season and I had an opportunity to get some at-bats there and perform at the level that I think I can do," Robert said. "It was very, very important for me and for my confidence."
Robert shares his fellow prospects' ever-present confidence, and he once again relayed how often they all talk about playing together in the major leagues and turning the White Sox into a championship team.
The White Sox, though, are working, as they have throughout the ongoing rebuilding effort, to make Robert's development as comfortable as possible. His locker at Camelback Ranch sits right between big leaguers and fellow Cubans Jose Abreu and Yoan Moncada.
"For me, it's very important to have them by my side," Robert said. "Abreu is a veteran, he knows the league and he knows the things you need to do in order to get better. Moncada is a young guy, but he has experience, too. Because he's younger, I can relate more with him. We're always trying to have fun, but they're always giving me advice on how to think, how to get a better routine and how to get better in order to take advantage of my abilities."
Of course, Abreu and Moncada won't be with Robert down in the minors this season. But the most important thing is that injuries are nowhere to be found, either.
If they stay away, Robert could finally show what he's capable of, and that could end with him rocketing toward Chicago.
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