White Sox’ Luis Robert Jr. is blowing up — but having a hard time enjoying it

“This is not an individual game,” he said before the Home Run Derby. “In that aspect, it has been difficult because as a team we haven’t been able to perform.”

SHARE White Sox’ Luis Robert Jr. is blowing up — but having a hard time enjoying it
The White Sox’ Luis Robert Jr. watches one fly during the 2023 Home Run Derby in Seattle.

The White Sox’ Luis Robert Jr. watches one fly during the 2023 Home Run Derby in Seattle.

Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

SEATTLE — Luis Robert Jr. walked into T-Mobile Park with one career dinger at the home of the Mariners.

Pretty sure the White Sox center fielder has, like, 51 of them now.

Robert outhomered the Orioles’ Adley Rutschman 28-27 in the first round of Monday’s All-Star Home Run Derby, then was bested by the Rays’ Randy Arozarena 35-22 in Round 2. That means Frank Thomas — who won the Derby in 1995 in Arlington, Texas — remains the only Sox player to be the last slugger standing in this always-fun exhibition event.

“It was a very nice experience,” Robert said via Sox translator Billy Russo. “It was fun. It was good. I’m very glad that I did it.”

Ah, well. The Derby homers don’t actually count on the back of baseball cards, though a $1 million prize did go to champion Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who — 16 years after his father’s Derby win — topped Arozarena 25-23 in the final. Robert made a crowd of 46,952 gasp with a 484-foot shot, but who’s really going to remember that? There are far bigger fish to fry for Chicago’s most talented baseball player, who views himself as one of the most talented players in the sport.

There’s definitely some buzz here about Robert. Guardians All-Star Jose Ramirez called him one of the game’s most unique players and marveled at his “physicality” and ability to “do anything, everything” there is. American League manager Dusty Baker wondered if anyone really knows where Robert’s ceiling might be.

Still, there’s a larger picture. An All-Star Game debut on Tuesday will be nice, but the big idea is for Robert to make this — with or without the Derby part — an annual tradition.

“I think if I stay healthy, this is going to be the first of many All-Star Games,” he said. “But I have to stay healthy. If I’m healthy, I’m pretty sure there will be many more to come.”

Over three and a half mostly miserable months for the Sox, Robert’s play has been the bright spot. To see what he’s capable of when healthy and a fixture in the lineup is to have no doubt he’s everything the Sox hoped he’d become when they wooed him with a $26 million signing bonus in 2017. And for sure, any discussion about which member of the current Sox core has the most to offer the team is completely over — it’s Robert by a mile.

Robert’s gifts as an outfielder have long been easy to recognize, as has his pure, easy power. Still just 25, he has 26 homers — tied for third in the majors, behind Angels megastar Shohei Ohtani (32) and the Braves’ Matt Olson (29) — at the All-Star break. A general rule: When you have more long balls than years on the planet at this time of the season, it’s a very good thing.

Very enjoyable, too? That part is a bit complicated. The Sox are 16 games under .500 and have played every bit as poorly as that sounds. In the worst division in baseball, they’re an unconscionable eight games behind the 45-45 Guardians at the break. If Robert’s success were helping the Sox win, he’d be overjoyed. If only.

“It is very, very difficult,” he said. “When you have a good day or a good week or month, but the team results aren’t there, it’s difficult to enjoy that because you’re part of a team. This is not an individual game. In that aspect, it has been difficult because as a team we haven’t been able to perform.”

Why is that? How did the Sox fall so far, so fast, from the playoffs in 2021 to a .500 dud in 2022 to a complete face-plant in 2023?

“We just haven’t been consistent, and that’s the reason why we’ve been struggling,” Robert said. “We’ve battled through a lot of stuff but just haven’t been consistent. And to be honest, we have to find a way in the second half to try to [change that].”

It’s a massive understatement. The front office may already have flipped the switch into sell mode as the Aug. 1 trade deadline nears. And if it hasn’t, the Sox will have no more than a handful of games out of the break to knife into their division deficit before it’s all she wrote for this utterly disappointing rebuild and the so-called championship window.

Robert is keeping hope alive, at least somewhat.

“This is the last chance for us to get into the postseason,” he said. “For sure, we have to perform. About the trades, what the team has to do, I don’t know; I can’t control that. But there’s definitely still a chance for us to get into the postseason.”

If that’s going to happen — if the Sox are going to make their duly cynical fans even entertain the idea of it happening — Robert will have to be magnificent. Maybe the worst thing that could come out of his Derby experience is for the exhaustion he appeared to show in Round 2 to lead to a second-half slump, but why would it? It shouldn’t. Robert is a potential superstar with dynamite in his hands.

For now, though, it would be nice if he could enjoy it a bit more.

“Every day, we try to cheer everybody up and motivate each other,” he said, “but it hasn’t been easy. That’s just the way it is.”

The Latest
“It’s not the first half we wanted, but we just gotta keep showing up, playing hard,” left fielder Andrew Benintendi said.
The White Sox selected left-hander Hagen Smith from Arkansas with the No. 5 pick in the 2024 MLB Draft.
Forecasters say ‘torrential rains’ are likely. Chicago is under a flood watch. The storm could drop 2 to 3 inches of rain and bring winds in excess of 58 mph. Another storm system could move through the region Monday evening.
On the acclaimed NBC police drama, Sikking played Lt. Howard Hunter, uptight head of the Emergency Action Team.