Classic was 'beautiful experience' for Robert

White Sox outfielder enjoys playing time, being with Moncada on Team Cuba

March 22nd, 2023

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The White Sox soon will be getting the whole band back together. 

Soon, as in Thursday, when manager Pedro Grifol expects the remaining World Baseball Classic competitors to return to Arizona. 

is slated to be in the starting lineup for the White Sox on Thursday, marking his first Cactus League appearance since March 1. But the multi-talented center fielder was basking in the glow of his contributions to a semifinal finish for Team Cuba on Wednesday, and echoing fellow players’ rave reviews of the Classic as a whole.

“It was a beautiful experience. It was all that I imagined,” Robert said through interpreter Billy Russo. “It was very special to represent my country.”

Robert finished 7-for-27 (.259 average) with one double, two runs scored, four RBIs and eight strikeouts over six games for Cuba, which lost, 14-2, to Team USA in the semis. , his friend and White Sox teammate, made the All-Classic team at third base with a .435/.519/.739 slash line to go with four doubles, one home run and five RBIs.

Moncada caused White Sox front office members, coaches and fans alike to hold their collective breath when he collided with left fielder Roel Santos on a fly ball in the sixth inning of the semifinal loss. The bruised rib suffered by Moncada as a result has been downplayed by the White Sox.

“He told me if he had to play, he’s ready to go,” Grifol said. “He texted me yesterday, we exchanged two or three text messages yesterday, and he wants to start playing already. I think he’s in a good spot.

“Really good tournament, and he did some things that were really good for me to see. He drew walks, he hit for some power. He just played baseball the way baseball needs to be played.”

Seven players from the White Sox Major League roster took part in the Classic, with Tim Anderson, Lance Lynn and Kendall Graveman suiting up for runner-up Team USA. Eloy Jiménez (Dominican Republic) and José Ruiz (Venezuela) played for the White Sox in Wednesday’s split-squad action. 

This heightened competition certainly speeds up the Spring Training preparatory process. It also presents definitive rewards in the form of succeeding for your country. No offense to a sunny, but unseasonably cool, afternoon Cactus League contest against the Royals at Camelback Ranch, but the level of play clearly is different.

“When you’re playing there every single game matters. You have all the adrenaline and just the pressure to win,” Robert said. “When you are here, you’re just getting ready for the season, trying to make adjustments because you’re getting ready for the season. There you have no time.

“I was able to play nine games, nine innings every game there. That is something you don’t do here. The intensity and urgency of the games? Yes, definitely that helped me. That helped everybody who participated in the tournament compared to what you usually do here. It just felt different because you are representing your country.

“You know that your whole country is watching and supporting you,” Robert added. “It was the first time in six years we had this event. It’s just different. The sentiments about that are completely different. The weight you have on your shoulders is bigger because it’s your country.”

Sharing the experience with Moncada was one of the best things about the experience for Robert, who added it was a big step for them just committing to play for Cuba. 

“And we enjoyed it,” Robert said. “I felt very good having him there with me.”

Good health and continuing to get stronger are ongoing goals for Robert., and the same could be said for Moncada. Both have elite level skills when at the top of their game, and Moncada, who struggled with a .212/.273/.353 slash over 433 plate appearances in 2022, could build off the Classic for bigger in-season results more along the lines of his ‘19 breakout performance.

“He played very good,” Robert said of Moncada. “He was one of the keys for us to advance to the semifinals.”

“So, he’s locked in, man,” Grifol said of Moncada. “Our conversations have been really good. He understands who he has been, who he needs to be. He understands the urgency. I’m glad he’s done with the WBC. I’m glad he’s getting back here today and we can move forward.”