GLENDALE, Ariz. — First things first: the last name Robert is pronounced conventionally like Robert Redford or Robert Barone’s first names. Not Robert, like a French Canadian hockey star with a long ‘o’ and silent ‘t’ or “Robber” like a bank thief, as was first put out there.
The official word from the White Sox media-relations department is that Luis Robert’s name sounds like it looks. Clearing that up is important, because we expect to hear his name a lot in the future.
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The 20-year-old center-field prospect runs really fast, hits with a lot of power and possesses tools compared favorably to the Sox’ No. 1 prospect, outfielder Eloy Jimenez. Scouts have compared Robert to a young Vladimir Guerrero. Some say he might turn out to be better than Jimenez.
Participating in camp this week at Camelback Ranch, Robert looks the part with a lean 6-3, 220-pound frame working a compact swing. It is only batting practice, but his line drives and his deep drives look special, as you might expect from a prospect ranked No. 28 in baseball by MLBPipeline.
“He has some talent. He’s got skills,” said hitting coach Todd Steverson, who first saw Robert at the hitters camp here in January. “That boy has some power. And he can run. You’re going to like him.’’
When Robert signed, he was second only to Japanese sensation Shohei Ohtani on the international prospects list. But exactly what Robert will look like as a player on U.S. soil is the $52 million question. That is what chairman Jerry Reinsdorf spent on Robert last May. It is a substantial sum for an unproven commodity.
General manager Rick Hahn points to the signing as proof the Sox mean business and are willing to spend when it counts. Robert’s contract was the second highest bonus for an international amateur since Cuban prospect Yoan Moncada signed with the Red Sox for $31.5 million in 2015. So far, Robert has caused no buyer’s remorse, hitting .310/.491/.536 with three homers in 28 Dominican Summer League games in a season shortened by knee and ankle injuries.
What’s next? Depending on how he performs in Cactus League games, Robert will be assigned to low Class A Kannapolis or high Class A Winston-Salem.
“It’s still extremely early,’’ Hahn said Tuesday. “This player has been in the United States about 12 days in his life.
“In all probability he’ll start the season somewhere in A ball, and we’ll let both his performance on the field and his comfort off the field dictate his development plan.
“It’s a different case, unlike a college or high school kid where we don’t have a traditional development path or plan in place. We’re still getting to know him. Whether he hits .240 or .340 next year that’s only a portion of Luis Robert’s development in 2018. A ton of it will happen off the field.’’
A strong showing this summer would put Robert closer to the position next year as Moncada was last year and Jimenez this year. Robert will let others lead the discussion on how soon he will be knocking on the major-league door.
“I don’t know when I can be in the majors,’’ Robert said through a translator. “I’m just focusing on doing my work, try to get better and get ready for the time.’’
These are challenging days for Robert. He is still adjusting to a new culture, language and leaving his family in Cuba. He said he has an uncle who is taking care of him in Arizona. At the ballpark, Moncada and fellow Cuban Jose Abreu flank his locker.
That should help.
“[Abreu] was a superstar in Cuba,’’ Robert said. “He was an example for us, for young kids there. I also think he’s been an example for us here with the things that he has done. I like him. We have a great relationship, and I’m hoping to be like him.’’
Robert looks to make a name for himself.
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