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Luis Robert empties the tool box, shows MVP-level impact he can make for White Sox

Vinnie Duber Avatar
April 13, 2022

So this Luis Robert guy is pretty good.

That’s it. That’s the lede.

By now, you’ve heard all the rave reviews, the astonished takes from teammates and coaches and Hall of Famers who call him a “six-tool player.” You’ve seen him make diving catches and hit 487-foot homers and steal bases. You’ve had to pick your own jaw up off the floor a time or two.

I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. And Robert didn’t show you anything you didn’t already know he could do in making all the plays in every facet of the game during Tuesday’s home opener, a 3-2 win for the White Sox over the visiting Mariners.

And that’s exactly what has the MVP hype machine in overdrive at this very outset of the 2022 campaign.

Robert can do it all. Everyone knows it. And they just can’t stop him.

“He’s got that much talent, it’s a joke,” Liam Hendriks said after the game. “He does everything well, and not only does he do it well, he actually shows up to the field early. He does everything the right way, as well. … From a young guy, that’s incredible. He’s going to be a great veteran in here in the next couple of years when some of the young guys get up.

“That’s something you can’t teach, and that’s something that he’s got: not only the talent, but all the off-the-field stuff.

“Watching him play is pretty awe-inspiring. … It’s wild how everything goes with him. He’s one of the most talented people I’ve ever been around.”

Robert was the literal difference Tuesday, hitting a solo home run, taking runs away with a spectacular leaping catch and stealing third base to set up what proved the game-winning tally. It wasn’t every tool in his tool box on display, Tony La Russa was sure to point out. But boy, it was a lot of them.

“He showed a lot of why he’s (so special),” the manager said. “More than a little, he showed a lot of why he’s so special. The play, the bullet (home run) to right center, the base hits, the stolen bases. He showed a lot of it.

“The defensive stuff, I mean you can only get so great, and he’s right there. … What so impressed me, he showed it last year when he came back after missing all that time, he really took good at-bats. We punched out a lot (Tuesday). We chased a lot of tough breaking balls. And he laid off a bunch. I think the progress he’s making with controlling that strike zone, for a young hitter, it’s really impressive.”

Everything’s impressive about Robert, nothing more so, perhaps, than the way he caught fire upon returning from a months-long absence last season. After sitting out while he rehabbed a torn hip flexor, he was the best hitter on a team full of good ones, showing he can be the kind of guy who can carry a lineup, who can put a team on his back.

He showed he can be an MVP type, and all the hype from his days as a highly rated prospect looked justified.

Now, on just the fourth day of the 2022 season, he’s doing it again.

Seattle starter Matt Brash carved up the White Sox’ lineup pretty good for much of his major league debut. But it was Robert who finally got to him in the sixth inning, smoking a pitch over the fence to break a 1-all tie.

After showing the eye La Russa was talking about and drawing a leadoff walk in the eighth inning, Robert stole second and later stole third, able to score when Eloy Jiménez beat out a might-have-been double-play ball. Robert manufactured that run, and it proved immensely important when the Mariners tagged Hendriks for a run in the ninth.

The hip injury a year ago prevented that sort of thing, and it was sliding into second base as a minor leaguer that led to the thumb injury that sapped his power in 2018. He entered the year with just 15 stolen bases in two big league seasons. Now, Robert can show off this tool, too, the wheels that can make him even more dangerous. He’s got four swiped bags in the team’s first four games.

“That’s what I’ve done throughout my whole career in the U.S.,” Robert said of his base running through team interpreter Billy Russo. “That’s what everybody has seen from me. Last year was different, because after the injury, I had the red light. But I expect to keep doing that as much as I can.”

All this is without delving into the big catch that also had an impact on the scoreboard, Robert taking extra bases away from Jesse Winker and at least one run away from the Mariners, who had two men on in the third inning.

Obviously, it was a great display of athleticism, a nice reminder of why he won a Gold Glove in 2020. But there was some preparation in there, too.

With all the injuries facing the White Sox, there might have been some frightened fans out there afraid the center fielder joined the wounded with that crash into the padding on the outfield wall. But Robert wasn’t afraid, partly because of the aggressiveness that makes him such an effective athlete and partly because this is his home ballpark and he knows what he’s doing out there.

“When you’re on the field, you don’t think about (possibly getting hurt),” Robert said. “When you are on the field, you just think of doing your job. Injuries, that’s something that you can’t control. That’s part of the game. But when you’re on the field, you don’t think about it. You just think about the job you have to get done.

“Before the catch, I was aware of the wall. And then, when you know that, you’re able to adjust. It’s not going to take you by surprise. I was aware of where the wall was, and I was aware on the play.”

Robert’s defensive ability has earned him the reputation of someone who can play all three outfield positions at once. And with Jiménez routinely earning fan concern for his defensive work, it’s been suggested that he just let Robert take over on nearly every fly ball hit his way.

So when Jiménez made a nice leaping catch on the warning track late in the game Friday, he finally had something to compare to Robert.

But when Robert was asked who had the better catch, there was no comparison.

“Luis Robert!” Jiménez yelled from his locker, drowning out the compliment his teammate was trying to throw his way.

That’s going to be the answer to a lot of questions this year.

Who made the best catch? Who hit the longest homer? Who stole the most bases? Who made the biggest play?

Who won the MVP?

“Luis Robert!”

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