After signing with the White Sox in 2017, Luis Robert quickly made his way to the top of the team’s farm system, while finding major success at every level in the Minor Leagues. Robert raced through the system in 2019, starting the season in Winston-Salem (A+), and finishing in Charlotte (AAA). Making his case to be called up to the active roster in September. One of the main reasons Robert was not promoted in 2019, was due to service time issues. This issue was resolved when the White Sox and Robert came to an agreement on a 6 year, $50 million extension, with options that can tack on 2 more years. This deal is similar to the deal that fellow teammate, Eloy Jimenez received towards the end of spring training last year. This deal allows Robert to start the 2020 season as the starting CF in Chicago on March 26, rather than spending the first couple of weeks in Charlotte, as the organization would’ve had to wait to achieve the extra year of control.
Luis Robert might be the most balanced prospect Sox fans have seen throughout the rebuild, and is looked at as an athletic freak-of-nature. Robert appears to be a true 5-tool player, who has the ability to get on base, hit the ball out of the ballpark, and the speed to cover the ground in the outfield between Jimenez and Mazara. As the starting CF, Robert will have to be able to cover a large portion the outfield, due to the lack of defensive ability around him. In 2019, out of 122 qualified players (850 innings+), Mazara (-7.2) ranked 100th, and Jimenez (-10.1) ranked 113th in defensive ranking. Robert’s defensive ability will surely be tested in a ‘hitter-friendly’ Guaranteed Rate Field, between the two corner outfielders. Robert has the rare combo of speed and power, and achieved 32 HR and 36 SB in 2019, joining the 30/30 club on the same day as Astros prospect, Kyle Tucker. They are the first players to achieve this feat since Joc Pederson did it in 2014. According to MLB Pipeline, Robert has 65-grade speed, which makes him an immediate threat on the field and base-paths. In 2019, he had 36 SB on 47 attempts.
As fans on the Southside are eager to watch a competitive baseball team again, some will look at Luis Robert’s .328/.376/.624 slash line, 32 HR, and 36 SB across 122 games in 2019, and expect him to make an immediate impact. While he should have success in 2020, fans have to remember that he is only 22 and has only spent a season and a half in the Minor Leagues, so it is expected that he will experience growing pains. Similar to Yoan Moncada and Eloy Jimenez upon their promotions to the MLB, with both seeming to struggle upon their arrival in Chicago.
In Yoan Moncada’s first full season in 2018, one of his biggest struggles was the issue with strikeouts. Moncada lead the league in strikeouts with 218, only falling 6 short of the all-time single-season leader. During his first full season in 2018, Moncada spent most of the season batting leadoff (65% of the games), due to his ability to get on base. It appeared that he generally had a good eye, but was almost too patient in his at-bats, trying to force a walk, but ended up getting behind in the count and racking up strikeouts. He recorded a O-Swing% of 23.3% and a Z-Swing% of 63.9%. In 2019, Moncada took a large step forward, mostly due to his aggressiveness in the batters box, and spending most of his time in the 2-hole. His O-Swing% went up to 32.7%, and his Z-Swing% reached 67%, showing a more aggressive approach. With Moncada’s natural power off the bat (similar to Robert’s), making contact with the ball is crucial. Moncada had the 13th highest average exit velocity at 93.6 MPH, so the aggressive approach helped his breakout year in 2019. Many people are slotting Robert in the leadoff spot due to his speed, but the White Sox should look at how Moncada handled it, and make a cautious decision.
After Eloy Jimenez was traded across Chicago from the Cubs, he went on a run similar to what Robert experienced in 2019. Eloy had a rough start, as major league pitchers found his weaknesses, which was focused around not being able to lay off of sliders down and away. It is reasonable to compare Robert to Jimenez in this aspect, as there is a good chance that Robert struggles at first with this pitch. Robert conquered minor league pitchers, who are more likely to miss their location and hang pitches, so it will be interesting to see how he performs, reacts, and adapts to Major League pitching.
With players that have struggled initially in the big leagues still on the roster, such as Jimenez and Moncada, there will be options for Luis Robert to turn to. The jump from AAA to the MLB can be extremely overwhelming, especially for someone like Robert, who is only 22 years old. Moncada and Jimenez have experienced these different struggles, and can walk Robert through them as the White Sox hope to contend for their first division title since 2008.
Photo from @whitesox/Twitter.