White Sox’ Luis Robert’s talent ‘jumps off the page’ and his willingness to learn does, too
Luis Robert reminds Adam Eaton of Juan Soto, Eaton’s young and talented former teammate with the Washington Nationals.
CLEVELAND — Luis Robert reminds Adam Eaton of Juan Soto, Eaton’s young and talented former teammate with the Washington Nationals.
Robert, 23, is young and talented. The comparison gets good when Eaton sees Robert’s willingness to find ways to improve and learn.
“Juan was very talented but every day he tried to pick something up and be better,” Eaton said. “Luis is no different, he comes to play and learn every day and with his skills and ability to pick things up quickly, will make a very good player in this league for a long time.
“What really makes superstars in this league is the mental grind and being ready to learn every day and evolve. That has really impressed me.”
Having Robert’s chiseled and fleet 6-2, 220-pound frame roaming center field has been an assuring constant for manager Tony La Russa, not to mention Eaton who flanks him in right field.
“On defense he puts us on his back,” Eaton said.
Robert’s defense in 2020 earned him the first Gold Glove won by a Sox outfielder since Ken Berry in 1970.
The progression in Robert’s hitting, though, might be setting him up for more awards in what shapes up as an exceptionally promising career. Hitting coach Frank Menechino is seeing Robert put the ball in play in certain situations rather than trying to drive every pitch 400-plus feet with his huge power.
“Robert is starting to understand that there are hits on the right side of the field, that he doesn’t want to strike out,” Menechino said. “Put the ball in play, give yourself a chance. And he’s realizing that hits are OK. I got to yell at him and say ‘Hey it’s a base hit, it’s good. Hey, it’s a walk, it’s good.’ ’’
When Robert gets a pitch in his wheelhouse, he still can drive it.
After a September swoon in 2020 dropped his hitting line to .233/.302/.436, Robert finished with a good final week and postseason series against the Athletics — his 487-foot homer was the longest by a Sox player in the Statcast era.
He is off to a .310/.351/.493 start with a homer, triple, and AL-high eight doubles and three stolen bases. He hasn’t missed a game.
Menechino knows Robert has high expectations for himself but also knows “taking it down a couple notches” works for him because of his strength.
“When he hits the ball he hits it hard, he can hit through some shifts, he can get his cheap hits by muscling the ball,” Menechino said. “When he tries to do too much, swing and a miss. So cutting down his swing and taking his base hits is helping him right now.”
It’s like Eaton said, Robert can get jammed and still hit the ball hard.
“The one thing that has wowed me is, he might be fooled but he stays through the ball, hits it 102 [mph] and it’s off the wall,” Eaton said. “The raw strength jumps off the page.”
Raw strength? Robert’s average 109.2 mph exit velocity on his home runs led the major leagues.
During his slump last season, Robert said he was preoccupied with pitchers throwing him breaking pitches and “couldn’t catch up” to the fastball. It was a learning experience, to be sure.
“One of the things I’m working on right now is trying to stay behind the ball and let the ball come to me,” Robert said through translator Billy Russo, “and hitting the ball to the opposite field, take advantage of the whole field. It’s still a work in progress, something I’m going to do more consistently.”
Note: The White Sox’ Wednesday night game against the Indians in Cleveland was postponed due to field conditions and weather. The game will be rescheduled as a straight doubleheader May 31 starting at 3:05 p.m.