Luis Robert's Effort Stands Out In Arizona Fall League
GLENDALE, Ariz.—Luis Robert stands out for his sheer physicality the moment you lay eyes on him.
A chiseled 6-foot-3, 185-pound blend of power and speed, the 21-year-old outfielder is straight out of central casting for what a Major League Baseball player should look like.
That’s a big reason why Robert was a highly pursued international free agent in 2017. It’s a big reason why the White Sox gave him a $26 million bonus to sign.
There’s something beyond Robert’s physicality that makes him special, though.
It’s his effort—a boundless enthusiasm that translates into a ceaseless motor on the diamond, turning outs into hits and creating runs out of thin air.
On Friday afternoon, Robert put that perpetual energy—and its game-changing ability—on display for all to see.
Robert carried Glendale to a 6-5 victory over Scottsdale in the Arizona Fall League by pure force of effort.
Leading off the second inning against Astros No. 1 prospect Forrest Whitley, Robert busted hard out of the righthanded batter’s box on a ground ball to third base and turned what should have been a routine groundout into an infield single, getting down the line in 4.3 seconds. Two pitches later, he stole second to move into scoring position.
On the very next pitch came Robert’s signature moment. Yu Chang (Indians) lifted a fly ball deep to center field, and Robert tagged up and raced to third at full speed. As Scottsdale shortstop Alfredo Rodriguez (Reds) took the throw in from center field, he slowly jogged back toward the infield rather than getting the ball in quickly. Robert saw Rodriguez’s slow gait and took off, racing home and scoring with a nifty slide past catcher Matt Winn (Giants) after a startled Rodriguez threw home.
In a span of five pitches, Robert beat out an infield single, stole second, and took two bases on a sacrifice fly to give Glendale a lead.
"That tells you something about him,” said Glendale hitting coach Charles Poe, a hitting coach in the White Sox’s system who coached Robert for 32 games at high Class A Winston-Salem this season. "He’s a physical specimen, he’s an awesome athlete and he’s just playing the game like you’re playing in the backyard. Like a kid’s game. What we just saw in that inning ... that’s just how he is. His baseball IQ is very high.”
Robert’s hustle wasn’t done. With two outs in the third inning, he lifted a fly ball into shallow right field. Rather than jog down the line, he moved quickly out of the box, and when Scottsdale second baseman Andres Gimenez (Mets) failed to make the catch, Robert kicked into another gear and raced to second for a bloop double.
His effort getting out the box quickly, and moving to second on what could have been an assumed out paid dividends just one batter later, when Chang singled past the shortstop to bring Robert home and extend Glendale’s lead to 3-0.
"I work hard always, I run hard every time every play,” Robert said through teammate Laz Rivera, who was translating. "I’m very prideful in all my efforts that I make. I try to run everything hard, even if it’s a fly ball or ground ball. I’ve been playing like that since Cuba. That’s what I feel like the White Sox like about me.”
The White Sox like a lot about Robert, the organization’s No. 5 prospect. Most of all, they like that he is hitting.
Robert finished 3-for-4 with his double, stolen base and two runs scored. He has a hit in all 14 AFL games he’s played, and overall is batting . 386/.435/.526.
That’s a stark turnaround from the .269/.333/.360 line Robert put up in an injury-shortened regular season. He played in just 50 games across three levels due to a sprained ligament in his left thumb that twice sent him to the disabled list.
Staying healthy is a part of Robert’s improvement, but Poe also sees a discernible growth and maturity in the prized Cuban’s game.
"(He’s) just being really consistent and swinging at good pitches,” Poe said. "During the season you’d him coming out swinging early in the counts, coming out of his approach, swinging at bad pitches. Now he’s starting to find pitches in his zone that he can handle or do damage with, or he lets them go. He’s even now been mixing in a walk or two. It’s pretty awesome to see how he’s putting his at-bats together.”
For Robert, the progression as a hitter is something he knew would come, in part because of the way he approaches the game. It’s also easy to make it come when you create singles out of ground balls and doubles out of bloops by effort alone.
Robert recognizes that and considers that a foundational part of his game. It’s an attitude that is ingrained in the Cuban’s psyche and one that ensures he gets the absolute most out of his substantial physical gifts.
"Every day I come out here and try to have fun,” Robert said. "At the end of the day it’s a baseball game. I try to enjoy every bit of it.”
Baseball America 2020 MLB Rookie Of The Year Watch: Week 9
The ninth and final edition of our weekly Rookie of the Year stock watch.
NEWS AND NOTES
— Whitley pitched four innings, gave up four hits and five runs (one earned), walked two and struck out four. He was repeatedly victimized by poor defense but also did not have his best stuff, sitting 92-94 mph and topping out at 95 while struggling to locate his 80-83 mph slider. His 81-82 mph changeup was excellent but rarely used.
— Dodgers reliever Jordan Sheffield pitched a scoreless ninth for the save for Glendale, sitting 93-94 mph and touching 96 while mixing in an 80-81 mph slider. The 23-year-old righthander has not allowed a run in eight appearances this fall, with just three hits and one walk allowed and seven strikeouts in eight innings.
—Dodgers catcher Keibert Ruiz was removed from the Glendale roster and has left the Fall League after a death in his family. Ruiz hit .286 with a .357 on-base percentage in 13 games.