What to expect from Luis Robert in the bigs
A year ago, the White Sox added a 22-year-old outfielder whom MLB Pipeline ranked as the third-best prospect in baseball. Now they're doing it again.
In this shortened season, Luis Robert won't match the 31 homers that Eloy Jimenez slugged as a rookie in 2019. But he may have more raw power and definitely has better all-around tools than his fellow franchise cornerstone.
Chicago may have invested more money in Robert, the White Sox top prospect and No. 3 prospect overall, than any team ever has in a player before he made his big league debut. The White Sox signed the Cuban defector for $26 million (the second-highest bonus ever for an amateur behind Yoan Moncada's $31.5 million) in May 2017, paid a $25,243,200 penalty tax for exceeding their bonus pool and then gave him a six-year, $50 million contract this January that also features two club options worth $20 million apiece. That's nine figures of commitment -- and he looks like he'll be worth it.
Knee, ankle and thumb injuries slowed Robert in his first two pro seasons and he didn't homer a single time in 50 Minor League games in 2018. But his electrifying ability began to translate into production in the Arizona Fall League that offseason, setting the stage for a breakout 2019.
Robert hit .328/.376/.624 with 32 homers and 36 steals in 122 games while advancing from high Class A to Triple-A, leading the Minors with 165 hits and 314 total bases. He became the Minors' youngest 30-30 player (age 21) since Chin-Feng Chen in 1999 and the first 30-30 guy with 300 total bases since Jose Cardenal in 1961.
Robert will start in center field and bat seventh for the White Sox tonight against the Twins and José Berríos. He's more likely to hit for power than average as a rookie, and he could move higher in the batting order while providing double-digit homers and steals in the shortened season. He's the prohibitive favorite to win American League Rookie of the Year after providing daily highlights during Summer Camp.
Here's our breakdown of Robert's tools on the 20-80 scouting scale, where 50 represents big league average ability:
Hit (55): Though he's a career .312 hitter in the Minors, Robert may have to make adjustments in the Majors. He generates a lot of hard contact and uses the whole field, but he tends to get impatient when pitchers are reluctant to challenge him. He walked in just 5 percent of his plate appearances last season and big league pitchers will let him get himself out if he wants to chase out of the strike zone. A right-handed hitter, he pounded lefties (.356/.386/.719) and righties (.315/.372/.580) alike in 2019.
Power (65): Robert is a league home run champion waiting to happen. With his combination of lightning bat speed and prodigious strength in his 6-foot-2 frame, he can hit the ball harder and farther than almost any human. He improved significantly at driving the ball in the air in his second full pro season compared to his first. He creates most of his power to left field and center but is capable of crushing the ball out of any part of the ballpark.
Run (65): When Robert played in Cuba's top league, he displayed solid speed and wasn't much of a threat to steal. While he trained to try out for MLB teams, he got much quicker and now grades as a well above-average runner. Few players can match his combination of foot speed and bat speed. He still can refine his basestealing technique but can swipe bags on sheer quickness.
Arm (65): Robert's arm gives him a third well above-average tool and is unusually strong for a center fielder. He has recorded 13 assists in 167 pro games in the outfield.
Field (55): We grade Robert as a solid center fielder and some evaluators think he can be even better than that. He still could use a little more polish with his reads and routes, though his speed allows him to recover if he makes a mistake. He covers plenty of ground in center and with his quickness and arm, he's an asset at any of the outfield positions.