The first time White Sox outfielder Eloy Jimenez, a veteran of exactly one big-league season, compared Luis Robert to Mike Trout, I must have been in a kind mood. Perhaps I’d found a dollar in a coat I hadn’t worn in months. Or I’d finally been able to wrestle the remote from my wife. Or somebody, mistaking my writing for a cry for help, had helped me across the street. Something.
I let it go. It was SoxFest, and as is typical at winter fan conventions, enthusiasm had left the barn and was in full gallop. So Jimenez could be forgiven — sort of — for comparing a prospect who never had a major-league at-bat (Robert) to a three-time American League Most Valuable Player, an eight-time All-Star and a two-time All-Star MVP in nine seasons (the Angels’ Trout).
‘‘Some people are going to call me crazy,’’ Jimenez began — and, really, someone should have stopped him right there — ‘‘but [Robert] is going to be the next Mike Trout. Because he has five tools and he plays hard, like Mike Trout.’’
On Sunday, in the warmth of spring training, Jimenez was at it again, likening Robert to a man who well might go down as one of the best players in baseball history.
‘‘You will see,’’ Jimenez told reporters. ‘‘He’s really good. He’s been working really hard. Like I’ve said before, he’s going to be the next Mike Trout.’’
It would be really, really nice if he ceased and desisted.
If Jimenez doesn’t have the self-awareness that would tell him a rookie doesn’t need the pressure of being compared to a superstar, perhaps a veteran Sox player could tell him to stop. Or the manager could. Or the general manager could. Jimenez is doing the kid a major disservice.
So far, the one thing Trout and Robert have in common is that both are center fielders. I take that back. Both have noses, too.
Robert seems to have the potential to be a very good player. He tore through three levels of minor-league ball last season, hitting a combined .328 with 32 home runs and 92 RBI. He was USA Today’s minor-league player of the year. He has done well so far in spring training. Maybe he’ll be the phenomenal player Jimenez envisions him being right away. But it’s hard to come to the plate with 40 pounds of hype on your shoulders.
This isn’t a wet blanket being thrown on all the excitement about a talented 22-year-old; it’s a flak jacket.
We Chicagoans have some experience with this kind of thing. Think of all the poor slobs who were called ‘‘the next Michael Jordan’’: Harold Miner, Stephon Marbury, Penny Hardaway and Tracy McGrady, to name just a few. Kobe Bryant was the closest thing there was to the next MJ, and his orbit was a long way from Michael’s sun.
Miner averaged nine points in a four-year NBA career.
‘‘I always felt the worst thing that happened to Harold was the ‘Baby Jordan’ tag,’’ George Raveling, Miner’s coach at USC, once said.
Some people can handle big expectations and lofty comparisons; others can’t. Let’s hope Robert can. Or, better yet, let’s hope one of the five tools Jimenez says Robert has is a set of construction-site earplugs. He doesn’t need to hear all the weighty talk. There is truly nothing in it for him.
But Jimenez is sticking to his guns, saying guidance from Sox teammates will allow Robert to deal with the hype.
‘‘I’m just saying I know he’s going to do it because of the work he does every single day,’’ Jimenez said. ‘‘I don’t think he has pressure on him because he’s got me, he’s got [Jose Abreu], he’s got [Yoan] Moncada, so he’s going to be fine. He knows how to handle it.’’
Trout is a mellow fellow, too mellow for commissioner Rob Manfred, who would like to see the superstar sell the game more loudly. Apparently, a career 1.000 OPS isn’t noisy enough. If Trout weren’t such a laid-back guy, he might take offense at the idea of a prospect with no major-league experience being equated to him. Robert should thank his lucky stars that Trout isn’t that way. Can you imagine the national storm it would cause?
Jordan wasn’t above raising an eyebrow publicly when the ‘‘Next Jordan’’ was shoved his way. That usually didn’t end well when they played on the court.
When an opposing pitcher watches Robert walk to the plate this season, he might want to teach the young player a lesson about earning a reputation rather than having one thrust upon him.
No pressure, kid, but you’d better produce. If you’re noticing some constriction in your breathing passages, you can blame Jimenez for it.