White Sox Luis Robert could be an all-time player

The baseball lockout threatens to rob fans of their enjoyment of the game. For Sox fans, this threatens to negate their enjoyment of a contending team.

In particular, it blocks the joy of watching central defender Luis Robert, the type of player who – pardon the tired but appropriate cliche – is worth the price of a $52 seat on a Saturday afternoon.

At 24, Robert is already being talked about as the American League MVP candidate for 2022. That seems like a stretch for someone who has all 124 major league games under his belt and is still learning how to manage the zone of hit. But while his walk rate fell from 9% to 5% last season, Robert’s strikeout rate also dropped from 32% to 21%, and you don’t have to be a major league scout to recognize his tools.

“He’s a great talent, a great athlete and a really good centre-back, and he’s got all the tools – great tools,” an AL scout said. “It will be interesting to see how he matures and learns to control the strike zone, and how much he can improve.”

It doesn’t seem like hyperbole to say that Robert has a good chance of becoming the best center back in Sox history, and he might even establish that before his $50 million contract expires after the 2025 season. The Sox, who wisely signed him for several years in 2020 — before he was eligible for salary arbitration and free agency — hold club options for 2026 and 2027 at $20 million a year. .

So Robert should be here for your viewing pleasure for a long, long time.

At 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, with his proudly Instagrammed six-pack and a physique resembling that of an Under Armor model, Robert is a sight to behold, if he blasts “How much has he stolen?” circuits, topping exit speeds of 115 mph on line drives, showing off his strong arm or covering expanses of the outfield on either side with good reads, grace and top speed.

“What a weapon for us,” manager Tony La Russa said.

And Robert has demonstrated a flair for rising to the occasion, batting safely in all seven playoff games he has played, with a .393 batting average.

Two springs ago, fellow Sox outfielder Eloy Jimenez declared Robert the next Mike Trout. Hall of Famer Frank Thomas called him a six-tool player.

“There are times when you feel like you can do anything on the court and you can dominate,” Robert said through an interpreter after hitting home runs that went 415 feet down the center and 445 feet. left in a Sox win last season.

He definitely performed. During his 2020 rookie season, a 136/.273/.173 batting line in September cost him the AL Rookie of the Year award (he finished second to Kyle Lewis of the Mariners), but he got the Golden Glove for center backs and pole vaulted a 471-foot homer in Game 1 of the wildcard series against Athletics right-hander Mike Fiers. After finishing this season .233/.302/.436 with 11 homers, 31 RBIs and nine stolen bases in 56 games, he played in 68 games last season, slashing .338/.378/.567 with 13 homers, 22 doubles, 43 RBI and six stolen bases.

From May 3 through August 9, he was out with a torn hip flexor, and therein lies the magic potion to keep him in the conversation for MVP and the Sox’s greatest center back of all time: avoid injury. Signed at a $26 million bonus from Cuba in 2017, Robert dealt with knee, ankle and thumb injuries during his developmental years in the minor leagues. His career-high for games in a season is 122 on the Class-A, Double-A and Triple-A levels. His 68 games in 2021 come second.

To be known as the best at his job in franchise history means surpassing Johnny Mostil, Jim Landis, Chet Lemon, Lance Johnson and Ken Berry. According to Baseball Reference, Mostil (1918-1929) was the Sox’s top center fielder, hitting .301/0.386/0.427 and was second in the AL MVP in 1926. Landis (1957-1964) won five Golden Gloves . Lemon (1975-81) had two All-Star appearances and 216 extra hits in four years. Johnson (1988-95) ranks fourth all-time for the Sox with 226 stolen bases and seventh with 77 triples. And Berry (1962-70) was All-Star and Gold Glover.

Stay tuned.

As good as he is, Robert still has a lot of maturity to do on the plate. The question now is, how high is his ceiling? If he learns to manage the strike zone, it’s like the scout said, “Watch out, man.”

About Jimmie T.

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