GLENDALE, Ariz.–It was worth the wait. Luis Robert at long last made it to the United States, arriving this week to take part in the White Sox offseason hitters camp that includes more than 30 of the organization’s best hitting prospects.
A jewel of the 2016-17 international class, Robert signed with the White Sox last May for a $26 million bonus. Since then the native Cuban spent most of his time at the organization’s academy in the Dominican Republic primarily for tax purposes, playing in the Dominican Summer League for his first minor league assignment instead of launching his White Sox career in the states. Robert also stayed behind in the fall, participating in the instructional league program in the D.R. instead of coming to the United States for the similar program being held in Glendale.
Judging from what observers at the mini-camp have seen since the 20-year-old outfielder showed up in Arizona, Robert’s delayed arrival was worth the delay.
Despite the presence of touted young second baseman Yoan Moncada and top prospects Eloy Jimenez, Blake Rutherford, Jake Burger, Gavin Sheets and Zack Collins, all eyes have been on Robert.
Ranked the White Sox’s fourth-best prospect, Robert has demonstrated premium bat speed and plus raw power in batting practice sessions. He’s also a plus runner who scouts expect will stay in center field.
“He’s been really impressive,” said Charles Poe, hitting coach with the White Sox high Class A affiliate in Winston-Salem, “and his ceiling is very, very high …. The ball really comes off his bat. He’s a very good runner and has a very strong arm. He’s the real deal. Pretty legit.”
When asked for a comparison to a current major league player, Poe thought for a moment before declaring Robert a “thicker Adam Jones.”
At 6-foot-3 and a muscular 185 pounds, Robert is already an impressive physical specimen, with room to add another 20-30 pounds of muscle. He commented that he wants to build his arm strength to improve his throws from the outfield.
Where Robert starts the 2018 regular season is still to be determined, with one possibility being an assignment to Winston-Salem where he’d be under the tutelage of Poe and new manager Omar Vizquel. In the meantime, Robert has a long spring training ahead as he gets accustomed to facing better pitching than the younger, less experienced hurlers he saw in the Dominican Summer League.
He last played in Cuba’s Serie Nacional and in a short stint with a team of Cuban players competing in the independent Can-Am League nearly two years ago, so it’s been a while since he’s been sufficiently challenged at the plate.
Robert played in 28 DSL games last summer, batting .310/.491/.536 with three home runs, but a couple of nagging injuries kept him from getting into a regular routine.
“I couldn’t reach the top of my level playing there because I had seven or eight months of not playing,” Robert said through translator Billy Russo, “and then when I started playing I got injured. I tried to take advantage of every single minute that I was on the field when I was healthy, but I could never get my timing with my hitting or running the bases. But that’s something that helped me for this year and I’ve been training since the last time I got injured.”
Despite the inconsistent playing time and lesser competition, Robert left quite an impression during his time in the Dominican Republic.
“He is an incredibly physically gifted young man who is only going to get better the more he plays,” said Ever Magallanes, the White Sox’s Dominican Academy Supervisor. “His makeup is off the charts …. He loves to play the game,”
In addition to developing his skills on the field, Robert also has a significant learning curve ahead of him adjusting to life in the United States and adapting to how the game is played here. He’ll continue the English language classes that he started during his time at the Dominican Academy. For his other lessons Robert will rely on a couple of White Sox spring training teammates, Moncada and first baseman Jose Abreu, both of whom previously went through the transition of coming from Cuba to the United States.
“Having two countrymen who I know and like around me is going to help me get through this process smoothly,” Robert said. “They know the system here, they know what they have to do, and they can give me advice … That’s something that I’m looking for … to be with them just to know what their experiences have been and what they can give me. It’s going to be great and I’m excited for that moment to come.”
By Bill Mitchell BA