This is a follow-up to Projecting Luis Robert’s MLB Career, which was written in July 2018.
Almost exactly one year ago, I wrote a post about Luis Robert and how he profiled relative to other center fielders across baseball. At the time, Robert was a very well-known, highly-regarded prospect, but was not the absolute monster he is now. The excitement surrounding the center fielder has prompted more discussion about potential comparisons and career trajectories. Everything in last year’s post still applies, but now that we have more data to work with, let’s put a finer point on it.
Some names that arise often with respect to Robert comps are Starling Marte and Lorenzo Cain. Attentive readers may note that I listed Cain as a potential Robert comp last year, and those projections remain pretty fair. Robert’s skill set includes a combination of Marte’s and Cain’s skills, particularly in their defensive aptitude and speed (which Cain had more of when he was younger). I believe that Robert will be a better hitter than either of them, but neither Cain nor Marte are slouches offensively. Nevertheless, Robert’s performance this season has upgraded his comps.
Luis Robert’s second home run in his Triple-A debut with @KnightsBaseball. He now has 6 RBIs and it’s only the 5th inning.
— Sox On 35th (@SoxOn35th) July 12, 2019
Even if you have been following Robert’s daily box scores, it is still amazing to look at his statistics as a whole. In 81 games, the 21-year-old is slashing .356/.409/.644 with 116 hits, 19 home runs, 32 stolen bases, 72 runs scored, and reportedly excellent defense in center field. Those are numbers that would look more than robust after a full minor league season, yet Robert still has about 45 more games to play.
When White Sox fans debate about Robert, it is always fun to bring up Mike Trout. This is not because people believe that Robert will actually be another Mike Trout, as that is an essentially impossible feat. Rather, Trout and Robert have somewhat similar skill sets. Last year, I mentioned Robert becoming a Trout-like player as a 99th-percentile, best-case scenario outcome. That still holds true. Comps are never perfect, and are not a great method for evaluating prospects, but they’re fun and good for promoting discussion. However, looking at player comps for Robert, there is always something that bothers me. Common comps for Robert such as Marte and Cain, while relatively fitting, are always missing something: speed.
Simply said, Robert is one of the fastest, if not the fastest, player in all of professional baseball.
30.0 is considered elite.
— Manny Randhawa (@MannyOnMLB) July 7, 2019
Yes, this is just one data point, but it represents a trend. The same thing came up in last year’s Robert post, and it is ever more clear that the 60-70 speed grades Robert has received are not very accurate. When comps are named for Robert, consequently, it is almost always necessary to say that Robert would be “a faster [insert player here]”. When people realize this and try to provide a comp who both hits for power and is very fast, they often overlook Robert’s defensive potential in center field.
Luis Robert to the highway! pic.twitter.com/BEHmuSREEa
— Sox On 35th (@SoxOn35th) July 17, 2019
Let’s take a look at Mike Trout’s 2012 season. In what is the worst full season of Trout’s career to date, the then-rookie slashed .326/.399/.564 with 182 hits, 30 home runs, 49 stolen bases, 129 runs scored, 67 walks, and plus defense in center field, culminating in 10.1 fWAR. Will Luis Robert ever amass 10 fWAR in a single season? The odds are against it. Nevertheless, Mike Trout’s 2012 campaign is what comes to mind as a high-end comp for Robert. It checks all the boxes: home runs, stolen bases, good defense, and lots of hits. While Robert may not walk as often as Trout did/does, a slightly watered-down version of Trout’s 2012 season seems like a relatively optimistic but not completely ludicrous projection for Robert’s prime years — .310/.370/.540, perhaps?
Of course, in spite of Robert’s incredible 2019 season, comparing any player to Trout (even when qualified as a watered-down, rookie year Trout) is generally not a good idea. Yet Robert is simply so talented that it is difficult for me to assert that Cain or Marte are still the most apt comps for him. Trout ’12 is certainly a high-end comp, but Robert is looking more and more like a player who will play well above his floor. In his prime, Robert figures to be an all-around superstar. He has the talent to turn in a few .900-plus OPS seasons while playing plus-defense in center field, and such an outcome looks more likely with every passing game.
Sure, Robert could turn out to be “just” a solid starter in the outfield, but he has star written all over him, and has found a way to exceed even the wildest of expectations this year. There’s no reason why he cannot continue to do so.
Featured image: Laura Wolff/Charlotte Knights