When the White Sox signed center fielder Luis Robert out of Cuba in 2017 as a 19-year-old international prospect, they envisioned a day when he would be the centerpiece of a postseason lineup.
Four years later, the Sox have found themselves in that position. And with the lights shining bright and the pressure of the postseason beating down, Robert looks as though he was made for the big stage.
Robert, 24, has done it all during the American League Division Series against the Astros, hitting a robust .500 through three games, showcasing what is both the Sox’ present and future. He went 1-for-5 with a walk and two runs scored in Game 3 on Sunday against the Astros.
‘‘There are some at-bats that you don’t feel 100% locked in,’’ Robert said. ‘‘But that changed during the postseason because you know that the stakes are higher. Then you have to keep your focus high all the time. You have to be locked in all the time, and I think that’s the
reason I have.’’
There was a time this season when the thought of Robert having an effect in the playoffs was dim. He missed 90 games with a torn right hip flexor. But Robert has elevated his game since coming off the injured list Aug. 9 and has carried it into the postseason.
Robert has been cool, calm and collected at the plate early in his postseason career, a feat that doesn’t come easily to young players in playoff environments.
After breaking out in the AL wild-card round last season against the Athletics, including hitting a mammoth 487-foot home run, it has been more of the same in this ALDS. Opposing pitchers have been unable to beat Robert out of the strike zone and have had to come to him because of that. He has multiple hits in each of his last three postseason games, tying a Sox record.
It’s easy to see that the moment hasn’t been too much for him.
‘‘I’ve been patient,’’ Robert said about his postseason success. ‘‘And I’ve been able to recognize the pitches, and I think that’s been a key. I haven’t been swinging at pitches out of the strike zone; I haven’t been chasing pitches. That’s been key for me.’’
‘‘I know Luis can run, can hit it a mile and can play great defense,’’ manager Tony La Russa said earlier this year. ‘‘I mean, those are Mike Trout-type talents.
‘‘One of the nice things for Luis is he looks around at the hitters in front of him and
behind him. The deeper the lineup, he can just be himself. He doesn’t feel like he has to carry anything.’’
Those in the clubhouse know there’s no denying how good Robert is and still can get.
‘‘He is dangerous,’’ shortstop Tim Anderson said. ‘‘He hasn’t really even figured it all the way out yet. Once he continues to keep growing and continues to be a complete player, the sky is the limit for him, for sure.’’
Robert has been a top prospect and the minor-league player of the year, had a .946 OPS in his second big-league season and has just started to scratch the surface of his potential.
First baseman Jose Abreu has an AL MVP award, and Anderson is an All-Star. But when it comes to deciding the Sox’ best player now and entering 2022, the answer has become pretty clear.
It’s No. 88.