Robert ready to bring the house down in Derby debut

July 6th, 2023

CHICAGO -- White Sox center fielder  arrived at the T-Mobile Home Run Derby through a little encouragement from his friends.

Robert originally wasn’t inclined to be part of the competition -- which is scheduled for Monday at 7 p.m. CT at T-Mobile Park and will air on ESPN. The 25-year-old stated in a couple of occasions that he didn’t think his game as a hitter first and slugger second would play well. But Randy Arozarena and Adolis García, his Cuban countrymen and fellow Derby participants, talked Robert into joining the fun.

“We all said, ‘Let’s do it,’” said Robert, through interpreter Billy Russo, after announcing his Derby entrance on his Instagram page on Wednesday.

So, the first All-Star appearance for Robert also will include his first chance to swing for the fences.

Here are the announced participants:

Pete Alonso, Mets (who won in 2019 and '21)
Randy Arozarena, Rays
Mookie Betts, Dodgers
Adolis García, Rangers
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Blue Jays
Luis Robert Jr., White Sox
Julio Rodríguez, Mariners
Adley Rutschman, Orioles

Robert ranks second in the American League and is tied for third in MLB with a career-high 25 home runs, trailing only Shohei Ohtani in the AL.

The White Sox slugger launched 11 long balls in June. Then he started tuning up for next week’s action with a three-run blast in the sixth inning off Chris Bassitt during a 4-3 loss to the Blue Jays on Tuesday at Guaranteed Rate Field.

That 450-foot drive, with an exit velocity of 111.7 mph per Statcast, was such a surefire connection that Robert looked down and paused for effect upon connection. He laughed when asked about that moment Wednesday, adding it was not a planned reaction.

“What he does for this team offensively and defensively, it’s amazing,” White Sox starter Lucas Giolito said. “I’m excited to watch him in the All-Star Game, and excited to keep having him behind me hitting all those homers.”

It was during the offseason when Oscar Colás, the No. 2 White Sox prospect per MLB Pipeline, as well as a close friend and workout companion of Robert in Florida, saw this success coming for the five-tool talent.

“I knew that he would have a very good season,” said Colás, through Russo. “I knew he would have success. I even told him, ‘Hey brother, you'll have a very good season. You will hit more than 30 homers.’”

Added White Sox general manager Rick Hahn: “When we originally signed him, he projected out as a 30-30 guy when he became the player that fulfilled [his projected] tools. ... I’ll say right now, he’s obviously an All-Star and well on his way to becoming one of the superstars in this game.”

Todd Frazier was the most recent White Sox player to take part in the Derby, losing in the finals to Giancarlo Stanton at Petco Park in 2016. Robert hopes to have better results than his first Home Run Derby as a young player in Cuba, which he explained with a laugh on Wednesday.

“I was talking about that with Adolis a few minutes ago. We said at least we have to break the record that we set in Cuba, because we didn’t hit any homers in that competition,” Robert said. “It definitely is an honor to represent Cuba, my country. I feel proud of it.

“We left our country with a lot of sacrifices trying to look for a better future. We were able to get that. Now being on this stage, being able to represent our country, it’s something that makes you feel happy and just makes you proud. You carry your country wherever you go.”

Luis Sierra, a White Sox bullpen catcher from Colombia who also throws batting practice, will be the Derby hurler for Robert and the duo will practice this weekend. Robert is excited to perform on the national stage, and he’s not worried about having the competition affect his post-All-Star break at-bats.

“He might be a little pumped up about it, but I don't think his swing's going to change or anything like that,” White Sox manager Pedro Grifol said. “I'm not too concerned about it, but he's a big part of this team. We need him to come back healthy and ready to go for the second half.”

Robert is also committed to taking a smart approach to the Derby.

“I won’t try to pull every single ball, because that can create some issues,” Robert said. “I’m just going to go out there and have fun. Hopefully, I can do a good job and maybe win. But my main goal is to go out and have fun.”