The White Sox recently made their latest bold move in a winter full of them, signing center fielder Luis Robert to a six-year, $50MM extension last week. Although the 22-year-old Robert has never played above the Triple-A level, setting his price for the foreseeable future came off as a worthwhile risk by the White Sox. Those types of gambles have become a trend for the club, which took the same approach before last season in inking left fielder Eloy Jimenez to a six-year, $43MM guarantee. Because Chicago was no longer concerned about Jimenez’s service time after extending him, he predictably cracked its Opening-Day roster. As expected, Jimenez went on to further establish himself as an integral long-term building block for the White Sox.
The team no doubt expects Robert to follow Jimenez’s lead this year in cementing himself as a foundational piece. Odds are that Robert, like Jimenez last year, will get a chance to do so from Day 1 of the season. Assuming that’s the case, he’ll take over for the White Sox’s most common center fielders from 2019 – Leury Garcia and Adam Engel – as their primary option. Garcia and Engel combined for a a passable 2.1 fWAR last season, though they didn’t offer much at the plate, totaling an unimposing .269/.308/.379 batting line with 14 home runs and 18 stolen bases.
Considering Robert has no experience in the majors, there’s no guarantee he’ll outproduce Garcia and Engel in his first taste of the majors. On the other hand, as en elite prospect (MLB.com ranks him third in the game) who has run roughshod over high-minors pitching, Robert’s a legitimate candidate to begin his career with a flourish. Robert hadn’t played above High-A ball until last season, when he destroyed Double-A (.314/.362/.518 in 244 plate appearances) en route to a promotion to Triple-A Charlotte. There was no shortage of offense in the International League, but the .297/.341/.634 slash Robert registered in 223 attempts was still 36 percent better than the league’s average hitter, according to FanGraphs’ wRC+ metric.
It’s too much to ask for Robert to hit that well in the majors this season, of course. Nevertheless, projections on his rookie season are bullish. For instance, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS system calls for 2.3 fWAR, a .265/.309/.455 line, 20 homers and 24 steals over 539 plate appearances. That would go down as a similar first full season to the one Nationals budding star center fielder Victor Robles recorded in 2019, an age-22, 617-PA campaign in which he posted 2.5 fWAR, slashed .255/.326/.419, swatted 17 HRs and stole 28 bases.
For the purpose of this poll, we’ll set the WAR over/under at ZiPS’ forecast, 2.3. Do you expect Robert to meet, exceed or fall short of that figure in 2020?
(Poll link for app users)