OAKLAND, Calif. — White Sox center fielder Luis Robert said he’s still tentative, three months removed from his hip injury.
No one would know it.
“Someday, when I have the chance, I’ll ask him about when he started playing,” manager Tony La Russa said after Robert ran down three fly balls or line drives in the gaps in the White Sox’ 10-7 victory Saturday against the Royals at Kauffman Stadium. “Some people say it’s instinctive. But there’s nothing instinctive. He must have, at an early age, shagged a lot of balls. He has the speed and the long strides. Some of the balls I know are in the gap, he’s picking them. What a weapon for us.”
What a weapon, indeed. Robert possesses five of them, or in baseball parlance, five tools — hit, hit for power, field, speed and arm. When asked about Robert, La Russa loves to mention Frank Thomas’ assertion that Robert is a six-tool player. What the sixth one is, exactly, is beside the point.
The point is, Robert does it all. Of all the Sox’ young and talented players, he’s that guy a fan should buy a ticket for, something teammate Eloy Jimenez boldly suggested at SoxFest 2020.
Robert, though, said it’s more natural talent than learned.
“People will call me crazy,” Jimenez said, “but he’s going to be the next Mike Trout.”
People did call him crazy for saying that. Robert hadn’t even played a major-league game yet. Almost two years later, it has become clear why Jimenez said it. After winning a Gold Glove in 2020 and finishing second in AL Rookie of the Year voting, Robert has come back from a hip flexor injury looking more polished, more disciplined at the plate.
“Since he’s come back, he’s just had overall excellent plate and strike-zone discipline,” La Russa said. “When he gets his barrel on the ball in the strike zone, the ball comes off, and it could be a long home run or he flips a single here.
“When he swings at balls in the strike zone, a lot of potential damage.”
Such as the 452-foot homer he hit against lefty Daniel Lynch on Saturday. It was Robert’s seventh homer in 46 games. He will take a .341/.379/.546 hitting line with 15 doubles, one triple and a .925 OPS into the Sox’ game against the Athletics on Tuesday, when they open a three-game series. Only catcher Yasmani Grandal (.947) owns a higher OPS (on base and slugging percentage combined) than Robert among the Sox.
“It’s not that I’ve been more patient,” he said. “The difference is that I have a better strike zone. I have a better understanding of the strike zone.”
As for those jumps La Russa will ask him about, Robert makes no mention of shagging balls as a child in Cuba.
“The ability that God has given me, that’s why I’m able to do all that,” he said. “And even now, even though I’m a little limited with my mobility because of the injury, I’m still able to make all those plays.”
“Just a little bit,” he said. “There are days that I don’t feel that good or I don’t feel that sure. During those days, I just prefer to slow down a little bit, just in case.”
Nobody has noticed. He makes everything look easier than it should.
“My mindset is always, they’re going to hit the ball at me, and I have to be ready,” Robert said. “That’s probably the only setup that I have.
“I just do my best every day. I always try to do better than yesterday. And tomorrow I’m going to try to do better than I did today.”
NOTE: The White Sox recalled right-hander Jimmy Lambert from Triple-A Charlotte and optioned right-hander Matt Foster to Charlotte. Lambert will start Tuesday.