Charlotte Knights fans have seen it before — a series of “next big thing” prospects headed up the Chicago White Sox farm system pipeline.
Over the past few years, it’s been Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease.
But some in the White Sox organization think there might be something different about Luis Robert, a 21-year-old center fielder from Cuba who was called up earlier this month from Class AA Birmingham to the AAA Knights. He is considered the White Sox’s No. 1 prospect by MLB.com’s Prospect Watch.
“Speaking to scouts that have covered the Southern League for the last 10 years, I’ve heard some guys say they haven’t seen a player like this come through there in some time,” White Sox director of player development Chris Getz told reporters in a recent conference call.
Robert, likely to bat leadoff Tuesday night when the Knights open a homestand with a 7:04 p.m. game against Buffalo, has been big news since he arrived in Triple-A.
But that’s nothing new. Robert was big news as a 14-year-old, playing on a Cuban national team in tournaments across the Caribbean and Central America.
He hits for power, carries a .326 batting average so far in AAA, is a threat to steal bases, and is a strong defensive player.
“Luis provides a special combination of power and speed that’s unique in this game,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said in May 2017, when Chicago signed Robert as a free agent.
He was 19 at the time, having left Cuba six months earlier. He received a $26 million signing bonus, second biggest (behind Moncada’s $31.5 million) ever for an international player.
Robert said later that he chose the White Sox over several other major league suitors because they scouted him the most. He joined an organization with a history of Cuban talent — Minnie Minoso, Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, Jose Contreras and Jose Abreu, among others.
After missing 10 weeks of the 2018 season with a thumb injury, Robert started climbing the White Sox farm system ladder at Class A Kannapolis. Robert began this season with Winston-Salem (high-level Class A) and batted .453, with eight home runs in 84 at-bats. Then it was Class AA in Birmingham, where he hit .314, with 16 doubles, eight homers and 21 stolen bases.
But it was all a prelude for his arrival in Triple-A. On July 11, in his first game with the Knights, he smacked two home runs, including a grand slam, and drove in seven runs. In 10 games with Charlotte, Robert has five home runs, is batting .326, and is 3-for-3 in stolen-base attempts.
Robert said he tries to maintain an even keel emotionally.
“There are good days and bad days in baseball,” he said through an interpreter. “But in every game, I try to do my best.”
While the clamor already has begun among some White Sox fans to bring the young slugger to Chicago, Robert is putting up the caution flag.
“I try not to think a lot about being the No. 1 prospect,” he said. “I still have much to learn. Both my offense and defense must get better, and I need to work on my mental approach.”
Robert also said he has noticed the pitching is stronger at the Triple-A level. That is something Hahn says is an important part of Robert’s stay with the Knights.
“He’s going to be challenged on the edges and around the (strike) zone at Triple-A, and it’s going to require a little more fine-tuning to his offensive approach,” Hahn told reporters earlier this month.
Eloy Jimenez, who produced stellar offensive numbers last season in Charlotte and now is producing with the White Sox, says he can’t wait for Robert to arrive in the majors.
“I’m not going to lie to you … he’s one of the best I’ve ever seen,” Jimenez told NBC Sports Chicago recently.
Robert dismisses all the talk about future stardom.
“I have a lot of work to do,” he says. “As long as the team is winning, that’s the most important thing.”
Steve Lyttle on Twitter: @slyttle