On May 20th, 2017 the Chicago White Sox made a huge decision. On that day they would sign centerfielder Luis Robert to a contract worth nearly 25 million dollars. This would blow their international signing money for two years. Time would tell if the 19-year-old prospect would be worth it. Robert would immediately be assigned to the Dominican Summer League White Sox where he would hit .310 with three home runs and 14 RBI’s in just 28 games.
While the White Sox were continuing to bring the talent they had stockpiled in their farm system to 35th and Shields to play, Robert was in Charlotte fine-tuning his skills. Robert spent the better part of four seasons in the minor leagues as he was preparing to contribute to the White Sox title window. Robert’s minor league career slash line was a sharp .310 / .382 / .543. Robert compiled 36 home runs and 129 runs batted in while in the minors. Finally, on July 24th, 2020, Robert would make his major league debut tallying his first two hits in four at-bats. While Robert’s plate appearances were fine during the 2020 season his defense would prove to be Gold Glove-caliber immediately. Robert would win a gold glove in 2020 and finish second only to Kyle Lewis of the Seattle Mariners in Rookie of the Year voting. Robert was off to an amazing start to his career.
How it’s Going
Robert would enter the 2021 season with high expectations placed upon him not only by his teammates and the White Sox but by himself. Robert would fall victim to an injury many would speculate could cost him the season when it happened. On May 2nd, 2021 in the first inning against the division rival Cleveland Indians, Robert was using his incredible speed to beat out a hard ground ball fielded by Jose Ramirez at third base when he went down hard beyond first base with a hip injury. Robert would later be diagnosed with a torn hip flexor. This would keep him sidelined for an initially estimated twelve to sixteen weeks. Robert would eventually return August 9th, 2021 against the Twins in an 11-1 rout of the Twins recording two hits in five plate appearances.
From that point forward, Robert would dominate 2021 including the postseason. “La Pantera” as he is sometimes called on the Southside hit a whopping .338 in 2021 including 13 home runs and 43 runs batted in, in just 68 games. Pitchers had a very difficult time getting Robert out in 2021 as he seemed to learn to lay off of sliders outside of the zone in two-strike counts more frequently forcing them to come back over the plate to attempt to get him out. Robert also started using the entire field. While pitch tracking from baseballsavant.mlb.com would suggest pitchers have yet to make a massive adjustment on how they are pitching to Robert, they may want to reconsider. Robert has seen his exit velocity climb as well as his hard-hit percentage. If Robert continues on this track, watch out Mike Trout.
While Mike Trout is widely considered the best player in baseball and it is hard to argue against that claim, Robert may chase him down quickly. If you consider Trout missed all but 36 games in 2021, comparing the two players during 2021 is somewhat difficult although Robert only played in 68 games. Looking at their postseason history also proves difficult as Trout has only appeared in three postseason games and Robert in seven.
The sample is quite small but the moments within the small sample may show something. Trout has exactly one postseason hit while Robert has eleven. While Trout has had his entire team on his back for his entire career to this point, Robert has a supporting cast and may not be pressing in comparison to Trout. Players like Shohei Ohtani and Anthony Rendon should help Trout, but could it be too late for Trout? Trout is 30 years old and beginning the backside of his career while Robert is just getting started.
Luis Robert is without a doubt a budding star in Chicago. It was a great move by Rick Hahn in 2020 to give Robert a six-year 50 million dollar extension to lock him up long term before he exploded onto the major league scene. If Robert can stay healthy in 2022 and beyond he could very well win multiple most valuable player awards and will almost certainly lock up several more gold gloves patrolling centerfield in Chicago. Availability is indeed an ability and time will tell if Robert possesses this ability. If he proves he can and does, the 2022 most valuable player may just reside on the southside of Chicago!
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