It was a play that lasted only 10 seconds during a recent game in the Arizona Fall League, but those 10 seconds gave the White Sox another glimpse into what Luis Robert can do on a baseball field.
And it’s electric.
It all started with Robert hitting a routine ground ball to the left side of the infield. The third baseman gobbled up the baseball and took his time throwing to first. Bad idea. Robert was racing down the line at warp speed and beat it out.
Moments later, Robert stole second base on a nifty head-first slide despite a perfect throw by the catcher. Robert made it look effortless.
Then came the moment that should have White Sox fans salivating.
A ball was caught in deep left-center field, which could easily get Robert to third, but he wanted more.
“I saw that the fly ball was hit kind of deep,” Robert explained through a translator, teammate Laz Rivera. “I was just thinking about scoring straight from second, but coach (Dave) Anderson stopped me at third. As the shortstop was walking in, I felt like he got overconfident and I took advantage of it.”
Robert dashed for home. The throw arrived. Robert slid to his right, reached out his left hand to touch home plate. He safely avoided the tag, scoring from second base on a sacrifice fly.
I asked him: Can you do this routinely without stopping at third?
“It depends on how deep the fly ball is and how good the center fielder hits the cutoff man,” Robert answered.
How many times have you done it?
“I’ve never done it,” he said. “But I’m confident I can do it.”
Even though he’s been on everyone’s radar since the White Sox signed him as a 21-year-old Cuban phenom in 2017, the Arizona Fall League felt like Robert's official coming out party. Thumb injuries limited him to only 45 games in 2018 with Class A Kannapolis and Class A Winston-Salem. Fully healthy now, Robert proved to be one of the best players in the AFL, facing some of the best pitching prospects in the minor leagues.
He finished with a slash line of .324/.367/.432 with two home runs, 10 RBIs and five stolen bases in 18 games. Thanks to a 14-game hitting streak, he also won an AFL Player of the Week Award.
Since the White Sox signed the 6-foot-3 outfielder, he’s had trouble staying healthy with two thumb injuries, a knee injury and a few aches and pains along the way. It’s left some to question whether Robert will be able to stay healthy.
He says not to worry. There’s been a reason for his ailments.
“I felt like I was getting injured last year because I had a year and a half without playing and now I feel like I’m ready to go,” said Robert, who was unable to play games after he defected from Cuba in 2016 until he joined the Dominican Summer League White Sox toward the end of the 2017 season.
“Every injury is a learning experience,” he said. “Everything I’m doing right now is helping my body become better."
Robert mentioned two big plans for him during the offseason. The first is working to improve his swing.
“I should be practicing hitting curveballs more often, but I feel like I’m in a good place right now to hit them. I’m working on more counts, I’m seeing more pitches and waiting for my pitch,” Robert said.
He’s also moving to Tampa, Florida, where he wants to get a house for him and his family, who are currently living in the Dominican Republic.
“So we can be together,” Robert said.
It’s not a coincidence that Robert has chosen to live in Tampa since that’s also the winter home for fellow Cuban Yoan Moncada, who's been a mentor to Robert since the White Sox signed him. Moncada is in Glendale this month getting in some extra training at Camelback Ranch in preparation for next season.
“He’s always taking care of me,” Robert said of Moncada. “He’s always giving me advice on what I should or shouldn’t be doing on the baseball field and off the baseball field.”
After watching Robert on the baseball field in the Fall League, spring training cannot come soon enough.