October 19, 2021

Luis Robert learns from good, bad of rookie season with Sox

At the beginning of his rookie season — the end, as well — Luis Robert lived up to all the elevated expectations.

He was the American League rookie of the month right out of the gate last year, batting .298/.348/.612 with eight doubles, 10 home runs, 24 RBIs, 22 runs scored and four stolen bases over 33 games in late July and August.

In the White Sox’s final series of the regular season shortened to 60 games by COVID-19, Robert was 5-for-11 against the Cubs and he followed with a 4-for-13 showing in the playoffs highlighted by a 487-foot home run against Oakland in Game 3.

For his overall efforts, Robert finished second to the Mariners’ Kyle Lewis in AL Rookie of the Year voting and won a Gold Glove.

“I got experience from last year,” Robert said Wednesday through Sox translator Billy Russo. “It was a good experience.”

Well, not all good.

Robert was flat-out bad for most of September, slashing .136/.240/.136 with 32 strikeouts in 81 at-bats.

Like most young hitters, even the great ones, Robert expanded his strike zone during the slide. He chased pitches, lost confidence, and chased even more bad pitches.

“The experience that I had the last month, when I had the struggles with my offense, what I learned from that was you need to work hard to get over that moment because if not that moment’s going to linger longer than what you would like to,” Robert said. “I learned that. I learned you have to work even harder when you hit those struggles.”

Hard work is all well and good, and Robert hears about that aspect of the game all the time from veteran teammate Jose Abreu.

But surviving the misery of an extended slump and coming out on the other side is the true test. In that vein, the White Sox’s 23-year-old outfielder is in a great position heading into his second season.

Robert hit .233/.302/.436 with 11 home runs and 31 RBI in 56 games a rookie. Had it been a regular162-game season, the one bad month might have just been a blip.

“If last season would have been longer than it was, I would be able to put up better stats,” Robert said. “That wasn’t the case and I just turned the page and this year I’m just working to get better.”

Vegas is projecting Robert to build off his uneven first year. BetOnline released MVP odds for the 2021 season Wednesday and Robert checked in tied for eighth with George Springer at 22/1.

That’s better than Abreu (25/1), who was the AL MVP last year, and Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada and Eloy Jimenez, who all check in at 33/1.

Robert is soft-spoken and he never seemed to get caught up in the crazy comparisons as a minor-league prospect or major-league rookie.

New Sox manager Tony La Russa knows all about Robert being likened to giants like Mike Trout and Roberto Clemente.

“I saw Frank Thomas this offseason,” La Russa said. “He told me, ‘You’ve heard of five-tool players?’ I said, ‘Sure.’ He says, ‘Luis is a six-tool player.’ I thought, ‘Nah.’ Now I’m watching him and I say, ‘Yeah.’ I could see. He’s got another gear or level he goes to.

“I know Luis can run, can hit it a mile and can play great defense. Those are Mike Trout-type talents. I don’t drop that on Luis right now, except that the talent is — I like Frank’s comment. He’s got six tools. I haven’t heard that about anybody.”