GLENDALE, Ariz. — Center fielder Luis Robert has a new contract, a new level to play at and a new tattoo.
The tattoo, on his neck behind his left ear, means “warrior” in Chinese, he said.
“As a Cuban, when you left the island, you knew you were going to face a lot of challenges, tougher challenges,” he said Sunday on the eve of the White Sox’ first full-squad workout of spring training. “I consider myself a warrior.”
As for the new contract, a six-year, $50 million deal signed before playing a major-league game, Robert, 22, said it only means he’s ensured of starting the season in the majors.
“But I still know that I have to work hard, I need to improve, I need to develop my game,” he said.
That’s exactly what manager Rick Renteria wants to hear. He described Robert in two words Sunday: competitor, driven.
“When I reached out to congratulate him after we extended him, he texted me back, ‘It’s time to go to work,’ ’’ Renteria said. “He knows this is just the first step, and he understands that there are a lot of people expecting so many different things.”
Seeing what Robert will do in the majors after he ran roughshod over three levels of minor-league pitching last season is one of the most intriguing things about the 2020 Sox. Many view him as the leading candidate to win American League Rookie of the Year honors.
Just watching him glide over the outfield grass running sprints Sunday morning or ranging to the alleys to run down fly balls or crushing baseballs during batting practice, Robert makes baseball look easy.
But it won’t be. Seems it never is, especially for first-timers through the big-league circuit.
“He’s going to be young enough to not be overwhelmed because it’s going to be so new that he’s probably going to be just thinking about playing baseball,’’ Renteria said. “The noise? That starts to creep its ugly little head probably a little bit later.”
As Renteria pointed out, Robert has fellow Cubans Jose Abreu and Yoan Moncada, whose lockers flank his at Camelback Ranch, to help.
“It will be our job just to make sure he stays within himself and does what he can do,” Renteria said. “There will be a learning curve, but he has a lot of guys around him who have gone through that process and will help him. The biggest thing you handle in any thing we do is emotion.”
Renteria saw enough of Robert last spring to believe he has what it takes to take on the challenges of major-league pitching.
“I remember him getting punched out with a breaking ball in the dirt, and the next time he spit on it and ended up getting something that was up and hit it out of the ballpark,” Renteria said. “Those are good telltales of a guy’s ability to make adjustments.”
After one month at Class AAA Charlotte, Robert said, ‘‘OK, I know I’m ready for the majors.”
He would play 47 games there and finish with a .328/.376/.624 slash line with 32 home runs in 122 games across the three minor-league levels.
“I’m confident that I’m going to have a very good year this year,” he said. “My mind is strong and in the right place. What I did last year reinforced all the things that I know I can do on the field. I’m going to learn that I’m going to need to make adjustments as quickly as possible, as fast as possible, because I know that in the major leagues, I won’t have too much time to waste.”