Luis Robert to lead off, start in center field in White Sox Cactus League opener

A day after saying Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada are his top leadoff candidates, manager Rick Renteria is giving the nod to rookie Luis Robert in first spring game.

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Luis Robert rounds the bases during White Sox spring training.

Luis Robert rounds the bases during White Sox spring training.

John Antonoff/For the Sun-Times

GLENDALE, Ariz. — A day after saying he was leaning toward having Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada as his top leadoff candidates, manager Rick Renteria revealed just one thing about his lineup for the Cactus League opener against the Angels on Saturday: Rookie center fielder Luis Robert will lead off.

On Thursday, Renteria said it would be too soon to throw Robert, who had a .328/.376/.624 slash line with 32 homers and 36 stolen bases over three levels of the minor leagues in 2019, into the leadoff spot having no major-league experience. And so Friday, when Renteria named the 22-year old rookie as his leadoff hitter in the opener, it came as a bit of a surprise, even in February.

“Luis Robert,” Renteria said. “You guys have a scoop.”

It didn’t necessarily suggest a shift in Renteria’s thinking. His Cactus League lineups in the past haven’t reflected his early regular-season lineups until games played in late March. Robert could be a leadoff possibility before the regular season is over, but the Sox expect him to experience some struggles and adjustment periods in his first spin through major-league pitching.

As for the rest of how he lines his starters up Saturday, weather permitting — the first rain of spring training is forecast — Renteria said it would be “a mix of some of our veterans and the young guys. Hopefully the weather will cooperate and we’ll be able to play.”

Right-hander Reynaldo Lopez will start and probably throw around 30 pitches. He will be followed by prospects and non-roster invitees.

The game will be broadcast at 2:05 p.m. on whitesox.com and 720-AM.

Eyes on Robert

Jose Abreu has kept Robert, 22, on something of a tight leash. Abreu’s locker is next to his fellow Cuban’s, as it was last year. Eloy Jimenez, who was a rookie himself last year, also has taken on a mentoring role with Robert. Jimenez signed a six-year, $43 million contract last spring before playing his first game. Robert signed a six-year, $50 million deal in January.

“He hasn’t even played in the majors yet, and he has a big contract,” Jimenez said. “So I have a lot of advice. But I’m not going to get crazy to give all the advice. He’s going to learn, and I’m going to help him, too. He’s going to be fine.”

Keuchel and Grandal

Left-hander Dallas Keuchel threw to catcher Yasmani Grandal, the Sox’ new $128 million battery, in live batting practice. Velocity isn’t Keuchel’s calling card — location and changing speeds is — but he broke left-handed hitting outfielder Jaycob Brugman’s bat with a pitch in on his hands.

“Listen, he can work to both sides of the plate,” Renteria said. “Keeps the ball down. Sinks it. His cutter can be very effective against righties, he’ll back-door you. He’s a Cy Young award winner.”

For starters

Right-hander Dylan Cease is lined up to start against the Reds on Sunday in Goodyear, Arizona.

—- Likely Opening Day starter Lucas Giolito is scheduled for his first bullpen session Saturday. Giolito’s start to spring training was delayed by a strained muscle in his ribcage area.

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