While the 2020 MLB season only spanned a mere 60 games, we still witnessed a plethora of exciting prospect debuts on both sides of the ball. None were more hyped and talked about that the debut of Chicago White Sox prized outfield prospect, Luis Robert. It’s not hard to see why either as Robert was coming off a 32/36 campaign across three levels of the minors in 122 games in 2019. The universal top-5 dynasty prospect was being taken within the top-100 of most drafts before he even took his first Major League swing. Now entering his first full 162-game season following an up and down rookie campaign, Robert’s ADP sits within the top-40. Is he worth the price tag? Can his approach improve? How dominant can he be in fantasy? I’m going to dig into all of those questions below.
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Luis Robert Profile and Future Outlook
Career To Date
Ever since Luis Robert came to the United States from Cuba several years ago, he’s teased and dazzled us with his tantalizing tools and immense upside. The strength and speed of Robert were immediately noticeable upon seeing him for two seconds, even if the in-game power took a bit to develop. In Robert’s first two minor league seasons, he combined for only three homers in 78 games, including a big goose egg in 50 games in 2018. Then in 2019, Robert began flexing that big-time raw power in games more consistently with 32 homers in 122 games. Increasing his flyball rate by 18.5% certainly helped as his estimated flyball distance jumped 23.3 feet along with it.
Following that dominating .328/32/36 season in 2019, the White Sox rewarded Robert with a six-year, $50 million contract extension in early-January which sent his 2020 ADP skyrocketing. That extension meant that Robert was going to open the season on the White Sox active roster and likely in the starting lineup. Hype was off the charts. All of that became true and Robert’s name was on the opening day lineup card. What followed was a two-month rollercoaster ride with extreme peaks and valleys. When the rollercoaster finally came to rest, Robert has a .233/.302/.436 slash line with 11 home runs, nine steals, 31 RBI, and 33 runs scored in 56 games for a 96/32/90/26 162-game pace. While the slash line was underwhelming, it’s hard to be upset with the power, speed, and run-producing skills that Robert flexed.
But that’s all in the past now. Let’s set our sights on 2021 and beyond, and dig into this exciting profile.
Hit Tool & Plate Approach
This is going to take a while so I hope you brought a snack and a beverage. And if you’re 21+, a strong beverage might be needed if you catch my drift. There’s no way to sugarcoat the approach of Luis Robert. It stinks. We’re talking about Adalberto Mondesi levels of stench. Where did I put that can of Febreeze? Anyway. Robert’s approach is maddening and caused massive peaks and valleys during his rookie season, especially over the final month. In the month of September, Robert slashed a horrid .136/.237/.173 with one lone extra-base hit in 94 plate appearances. Even worse than his slash line was a 34.0% strikeout rate.
The only two positives you can take from Robert’s September performance was his 10.6% walk rate and five stolen bases without getting caught. But we’ll get into his speed below. Robert’s rising walk rate is one of the few bright spots in this hit/approach profile at the moment. In the minors, Robert walked only 7.1% of the time in 200 total games. That mark rose to 8.8 % in 2020 overall, 10.6% in September, and 9.5% combined in August and September after walking only once in 28 July plate appearances.
That’s certainly encouraging, but the profile as a whole needs a ton of work. Even with the rising walk rate now at a solid level, Robert is still too aggressive in general and his pitch selection is terrible. Major League pitchers didn’t take long to figure out that Robert will swing at almost anything, especially pitches outside zone low and away.
Nearly 1/3 of the pitches thrown to Luis Robert were down and away as he never showed any restraint in laying off pitches in that zone. This isn’t a new issue either. Pitch selectiveness has been a problem for Robert throughout his time in the United States and caused many prospect evaluators to scale back their grades on his hit tool. When pitchers see an area of weakness, they’re going to attack it early and often. And with Robert, that meant pitches in that area, usually breaking balls.
In 2020, Robert faced breaking balls 38% of the time total with pitchers throwing sliders to him 28.1% of the time, the 8th highest mark in the league. And while his strength allowed him to drive a few of those (when he actually did make contact) and record a .552 xSLG , Robert also recorded a 51.6% whiff rate, 41.6% strikeout rate, and .218 xBA against sliders. Against breaking pitches in general, Robert had a .232 xBA, 46.1% whiff rate, and 25.8% putaway rate. He wasn’t any better against offspeed offering either (.173 xBA, 56.8% whiff), but only faced them 7.3% of the time.
Robert even struggled against fastballs in 2020 after mostly mashing them throughout his minor league career. In fact, his AVG and wOBA against fastballs were lower than his marks against breaking balls and offspeed pitches, and only three of his 11 home runs came off fastballs. From what we saw from Robert in the minors, I’m anticipating the production against fastballs to improve in 2021 and beyond, but that’s far from the only problem here. Let’s take a look at his swing and contact metrics.
Oh boy. Where to even start. I guess we can start with where these metrics rank overall against qualified hitters in baseball.
|Rank (of 142)
That’s not good. Not good at all. Robert is one of the most aggressive hitters in baseball, which isn’t a recipe for success when you’re also one of the worst at making contact.
Another metric that really stood out was Robert’s 1st pitch swing rate of 53.7%. That’s nearly double the league-average of 28.3%. On top of that, Robert swung at pitches in the zone 14.7% more than the league average while making contact on pitches in the zone 14.3% less than the league average. Yeah, that’s not good. He also chased pitches outside of the zone 11.4% more than the league average with a chase contact rate 17% below league average. See, I told you there was no way for me to sugar coat this profile.
This contact/swing profile looks a lot like Adalberto Mondesi’s which isn’t something I like seeing. If you know me, I’ve long been critical of Mondesi’s approach and have dinged him in my rankings because of it. The same needs to be done to Robert, but there’s a bit more optimism for me when it comes to him. Mondesi has now been in the league for parts of five seasons and still has this profile. Robert only has the abbreviated 2020 season on his Major League resume.
Adjustments need to be made. There’s no doubt about it. But it’s not like Robert and the White Sox coaching staff don’t see these holes in his swing and the zones he really struggles in. They have access to way more data than you or I do.
It doesn’t matter how sexy the power/speed profile below is if you can’t hit and get on base enough to fully utilize it. With Robert’s power and speed, he’ll likely have a higher BABIP than most and that alone will keep his average completely out of the toilet. I don’t envision any Gallo or Sanchez sub-.200 averages from Robert. But at the same time, him remaining in the .230-.240 range isn’t going to make him worth the price tag in either redraft or dynasty leagues.
But as I mentioned above, there’s a level of optimism here moving forward. Robert still hit .233 with a .302 OBP while having one of the worst contact/swing profiles in baseball. It’s fair to think that this might be the low-end of the spectrum when it comes to Robert’s potential range of outcomes. With improvements and maturity, anywhere from .250-.270 in AVG and .320-.340 in OBP shouldn’t be dismissed as being possible.
Here’s where this profile gets really exciting. There are very few players in baseball that can match the power/speed upside that Luis Robert possesses. If you combine his 2019 and 2020 seasons, Robert would have 43 home runs and 45 steals over 178 games. Only one Major League hitter has 40-plus homers and 40-plus steals since the start of the 2019 season. Yup, it’s Ronald Acuña Jr. Furthermore, only Acuña (100) and Christian Yelich (90), have more combined home runs and steals than Robert’s 88 since the start of the 2019 season. Yes, around 2/3 of Robert’s production in this span came in the high minors, but this just shows the massive power/speed upside that Robert brings to the table.
— MLB (@MLB) October 1, 2020
Want another? How about this one from a month earlier.
Luis Robert just WRECKED this ball. pic.twitter.com/6eXsiBk2Ar
— MLB (@MLB) September 4, 2020
There are several more I could put here too. When you look at Robert’s baseball savant page, you’ll probably see a middling, 34th percentile average exit velocity of 87.9 mph. That’s misleading. Due to Robert’s aggressive swing and chase profile that I detailed above, there were plenty of weakly hit grounders last season in addition to all the whiffs. Robert had an average exit velocity of 82.2 on groundballs which heavily factored into that overall average exit velocity. If you take out the groundballs and look at Robert’s exit velocity on flyballs and line drives, he checks in at 94.9 mph which ties him for 62nd out of 257 qualified hitters along with Javier Baez, Kyle Tucker, Ian Happ, Dominic Smith, and Xander Bogaerts. Most of his home runs weren’t cheapies either with eight home runs exceeding 415 feet when you include that 487-foot shot in the postseason.
That’s more aesthetically pleasing to the eyes and it doesn’t stop there either. Robert also had the 10th highest max exit velocity in baseball last season at 115.8 mph along with the 25th best average home run distance, right in the middle of sluggers like Joey Gallo, Nelson Cruz, and Juan Soto. On top of that, Robert’s 13.0% barrel rate finished in the 86th percentile in baseball and his .432 xwOBACON was well above the league average mark of .376. He also had the 2nd longest home run of the 2020 season at 487 feet. Robert’s combination of power and an ideal 16.7-degree launch angle are a great match.
Imagine how much better these numbers could be if he developed some patience at the plate and waited for a pitch to drive. Chase/aggressive issues don’t just lead to extra whiffs. They lead to more weakly hit balls as well. If Robert’s pitch selection and overall patience can improve, these metrics will likely improve as well. There’s more than enough raw power here for Robert to hit 30-plus homers over a full 162-game slate. He showed that in 2020 with a terrible approach and still was on a 31.8 homer pace over a full season. If he can do that with the approach he showed in 2020, it’s certainly possible for him to flirt with 40 homers with a better approach.
15% for everyone else, 100% for Luis Robert.
— MLB (@MLB) September 6, 2020
Just as impressive as Robert’s power, or maybe even more impressive, is his speed. Ever since he arrived in the United States from Cuba, Robert has run wild, terrorizing opposing batteries. In 200 minor league games, Robert swiped 63 bags in 81 attempts for a 77.8% success rate and was 9-for-11 (81.8%) in his 56 games with the White Sox in 2020. Overall, that adds up to 72 steals in 256 games with a 78.3% success rate. That’s a 45.6 SB pace over 162 games. Every last bit of that is legit too. In 2020, Robert had a 96th percentile sprint speed and 99th percentile outs above average rate. Robert covers a ton of ground in center field thanks to that speed and should be an annual threat to swipe 30-plus bases. And if he can get on base a bit more, 40 steals aren’t out of the question either.
Luis Robert 2021 Fantasy Outlook & Dynasty Value
Phew, that was a lot to sift through. There’s no doubting that Luis Robert has one of the highest fantasy upsides around. As I mentioned above, not many players have a legit chance to go 40/40 in any given season. You can count them on one hand. But, of course, there’s a lot of risk here, especially at Robert’s current 2021 ADP.
2021 ADP: NFBC 34.4 | Fantrax 39.1
That’s a 3rd or 4th round cost, depending on your league size. Robert has even gone as high as 21st overall in an NFBC draft, which doesn’t surprise me too much given the monster upside. Blending risk and potential reward is always something I try and do every draft season as best as possible, and with Robert, this is especially key. Some will not that he’ll likely hit lower in the White Sox lineup too, at least to begin the season.
As of now, Roster Resource has him hitting 7th. Normally, that’s not an ideal lineup spot. But this is no normal lineup. It wouldn’t shock me if the Chicago White Sox led the Majors in runs scored this season. In 2020, they finished 5th in runs scored, 6th in AVG, 12th in OBP, 5th in slugging, 8th in OPS, 3rd in home runs, and 8th in wOBA. That same crew is back in 2021 and has added Adam Eaton via free agency and will add Andrew Vaughn to the fold at some point during the season. On top of that, it’s reasonable to expect Robert to take a step forward and Yoan Moncada to bounce back a bit as he was dealing with COVID early in the season.
So, hitting 6th or 7th in a loaded lineup like this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If anything his runs might be suppressed a bit, but the RBI opportunities should be plentiful hitting directly behind Jose Abreu, Eloy Jimenez, Moncada, and others.
On the 2020 Razzball Player Rater, Robert finished 56th overall, even with all the approach issues we went over above. If that is roughly what his low-end potential 2021 value is, I’m fine with an ADP in the 35-40 range given his first-round upside. If Robert can make some approach adjustments and hit on my projection below, that should vault him into the top-20 for 2021 drafts and probably into the first round.
2021 Projection: .255/.330/.500, 85 R, 33 HR, 90 RBI, 34 SB, 550 AB
Potential 30+/30+ bats don’t grow on trees, folks. With approach improvements, we will likely see Luis Robert add his name to this illustrious club in 2021, assuming we have a full 162-game season. Heck, I think he could still reach this mark even if we lose 10-20 games due to MLB pushing opening day back a couple of weeks. His inconsistencies might drive you mad throughout the season, but the end result should be very impressive.
For dynasty leagues, Robert is already inside my top-20 at #16 overall. If the AVG/OBP can tick up into the .260 range and .330-.340 range, Robert could very easily crack my top-10 overall. He’s still only 23, so sit back and enjoy this power/speed monster as he enters his physical peak years.
Media Credit: Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire, MLB, Fangraphs, Baseball-Reference, Baseball Savant, Minor Graphs by Prospects Live
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