'Six-tool player' Luis Robert starts Year 2 with new Trout comp originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Remember when Eloy Jiménez called Luis Robert "the next Mike Trout" at SoxFest last year?
Well, he's no longer the only White Sox employee to make that comparison.
"I got a chance to watch Mike Trout," said manager Tony La Russa, who worked as an adviser in the Los Angeles Angels front office last year. "I was paid a salary for being an adviser. I'd have paid to sit there, watch him practice and watch him play those games. ... He was as advertised.
"I know Luis can run, can hit it a mile and can play great defense. Those are Mike Trout type talents."
So two years in the big leagues and two Trout comps for Robert. Not bad.
Robert's rookie year was also "as advertised," in the sense that the White Sox phenom showed why everyone had been describing him as a true five-tool threat for so long.
He dazzled with displays of athleticism and baseball prowess, making diving catches, showing outrageous range in the outfield, stealing bases and hitting balls to the moon. It all added up to a second-place finish in the AL Rookie of the Year vote — impressive considering he slumped throughout the second half of the regular season — and a Gold Glove in center field, something Trout's never won in his Hall-of-Fame-bound career.
But "five tools" is rapidly becoming an outdated way to describe Robert.
"I saw Frank Thomas this offseason," La Russa said, "and 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."
White Sox fans have heard about Robert's extraordinary feats for years now, perhaps to the point where they expect him to do something amazing on a nightly basis. But one way to get jarred back to the reality of just how special Robert is to hear a Hall of Famer call his talent "indescribable," like La Russa did Wednesday.
The center fielder is fresh off a rookie season that, frankly, didn't go the way he wanted it to. Yeah, he showed that the hype was real. But he also proved himself human, with a horrendous month of September that saw him hit .136/.237/.173. Major league pitchers did that thing they do where they adjust to the hot bat up from the minor leagues. And though Robert adjusted, too, busting out of that woeful stretch, the season ended before he could really get hot again.
Robert points to the final series of the regular season, against the Cubs, where he had five hits and a walk in 12 trips to the plate. Then he banged out four hits, including one of the longest home runs of the year, in the three-game playoff series in Oakland. But the White Sox season ended there, and there were no more chances for Robert to show he put his slump completely behind him.
"I think if last year would have been longer, I would have been able to put up better stats," Robert said through team interpreter Billy Russo on Wednesday. "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.
"When I saw my stats, my numbers, were falling down (in September), I said to myself, 'Hey, I need to do something, to figure out something.' Then I kept working hard and tried to do different things with the hitting coach. I think those things we worked on were good because at the end of the season ... I was feeling pretty good and I was showing I was good during the playoffs."
It's because of those "Trout-type talents" that La Russa mentioned that there's little concern about Robert's 2021 season. The much heralded White Sox prospects who arrived before Robert have all gone through their own struggles, in one form or another, and come out the other end. Just ask Yoán Moncada, Lucas Giolito and Eloy Jiménez. If Robert's big league struggles are limited to a single month in a 60-game season, that will be very impressive compared to his fellow franchise cornerstones.
But it was no surprise to hear Robert, one of the several José Abreu disciples in the White Sox clubhouse, talking about working even harder than he had before to improve on what was at times a jaw-dropping first taste of the big leagues.
If that work turns into an even better version of Robert in 2021 — and at 23 years old, it's obvious he's got more room to grow and more "indescribable" talents to show — then a White Sox lineup that already rates as one of baseball's most potent will be that much better as they chase a championship.