Who’s That Guy? Luis Robert, who still might be the best player on the planet one day

“Who’s That Guy?” is a new weekly Yahoo Sports feature highlighting a baseball player who you should definitely be watching this week. We’re not talking about the Mike Trouts and Max Scherzers of the world, instead it’s new and interesting players. Maybe a hot prospect who just got called up or a veteran role player having a moment.

On the South Side of Chicago, they’ll scoff at the notion that anyone *doesn’t* know the name Luis Robert. In a line of much-hyped White Sox prospects, Robert might be the one people were most excited about.

And now, Robert is finally having his moment.

The young White Sox are already living up to some of the hype. Ten games into this short, weird season, they’re in second place in the AL Central with a 6-4 record. Better, perhaps, than anything a small-sample size will tell us in the standings right now is the aesthetic truth — they’re a lot of fun to watch.

Eloy Jiménez, Yoán Moncada plus vets José Abreu and Yasmani Grandal are a big reason why — but the energy surrounding the arrival of Robert in the big leagues seems to have shifted the White Sox from being a team that might be good someday to a team that might be good this year.

Here’s why you need to know about the White Sox outfielder, starting with this one: He just turned 23. His birthday was Monday.

CHICAGO, IL - JULY 24: Luis Robert #88 of the Chicago White Sox looks on against the Minnesota Twins on July 24, 2020 at Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images)
White Sox center fielder and star rookie Luis Robert signed an extension with the club before he ever played in the majors. (Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images)

Why do you need to know him?

Let’s start with the accolade that many in the baseball industry got wide-eyed at back in 2017. Back when he was 19 in Cuba, before he signed with the White Sox, an anonymous MLB international scouting director said Robert was “the best player on the planet, and that's no exaggeration.”

That a good enough reason to know Luis Robert? The bar here is a bit different for Robert and others. The expectations are sky-high. To fulfill the hype, he doesn’t just have to be an MVP or All-Star. To some people, he’ll have to be Mike Trout. That’s not exactly out of the question either.

Robert is a five-tool player who can hit for average, hit for power, all of it. It’s been so-far, so-good with the White Sox. He’s batting .350 with a .409 OBP in 10 games through Monday’s action. He’s also hit two homers, knocked in six runs and stolen three bases. Since Tim Anderson went down with an injury, Robert has been hitting leadoff for the White Sox and has responded with six hits, including a four-hit game Saturday.

That contributed to the following fun stat — he’s been the most valuable hitter in the AL through 10 games.

Where did he come from?

Like many exciting young players to come to MLB in the past decade, Robert came from Cuba. As a teenager, he was on the radar of MLB teams as a future star. As the top-rated international prospect in his 2017 class, Robert signed with the White Sox.

He was 19 and earned a $26 million signing bonus — at the time, the second-highest in history.

Since then, this moment has just been a thing to look forward to. Now, it turns out he’s in the lineup with Moncada, who was the sought-after young Cuban talent before Robert. It was Moncada who earned the highest international signing bonus in MLB history. Abreu is another former Cuban star who joined the White Sox upon coming to America. The Cuban Barry Bonds, they used to call him.

After all the hype, Robert delivered last season in the minors. The White Sox challenged him by having him play at the High-A, Double-A and Triple-A levels in the same season. The results? He hit 32 homers, drove in 92 runs, stole 36 bases and had a 1.001 OPS. That’ll play.

Is he a one-hit wonder?

Not in the slightest bit. Again, White Sox fans are hoping that Robert turns into their Mike Trout. And at least on early measurable returns, there are signs of a superstar.

Some future installments of “Who’s That Guy?” might feature players who are relevant for a few months, but in Chicago, the hope is that Robert’s time in the lineup outlasts this new feature of ours by a matter of years.

Whether it’s this year or the next, as the White Sox have accumulated prospects galore in recent seasons, it was always Robert who was viewed as the prize that would carry them to being a winner.

Is now the time? Maybe.

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