GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP)In the aftermath of another lost season, another year derailed by injuries, Luis Robert Jr. changed his offseason routine.
He spent more time on a field for running, hitting and defensive work. It’s all in an effort to smooth his transition into a big year for the dynamic center fielder and the Chicago White Sox.
”In the past I just went to the gym, hit in the cage and, just a couple days, actually went to a field,” Robert said Friday through a translator, ”and then when I got here at spring training, things were slow or different.
”I wanted to change things this year. That is why I made the decision to spend more time on the field.”
Robert’s health is one of the biggest keys for Chicago as it tries to rebound from a disappointing 2022 season. The White Sox went 81-81 and missed the playoffs after beginning the year with World Series aspirations.
The 25-year-old Robert played in just 98 games last season, hitting .284 with 12 homers, 56 RBIs and 11 steals. He had trouble with blurred vision and lightheadedness because of a virus that led to vitamin deficiencies. He was sidelined by a right groin strain and left wrist and hand injuries.
He also missed three months in 2021 with a torn hip flexor.
”Due to the injuries, I couldn’t play as many games as I wanted to,” Robert said, looking back on last season. ”Unfortunately, that has been the case the last couple years. But I think in the time I spent on the field, I had good results, had good stats. The team, too many ups and downs. We never figured out how to be consistent. But I think this year is going to be a better year for us.”
When Robert is healthy, he is one of Chicago’s most gifted players. After he returned from his hip injury in 2021, he batted .350 with 12 homers and 35 RBIs in his last 43 games of the regular season. Then he hit .467 (7 for 15) during the team’s division series loss to Houston.
Robert broke into the majors during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, hitting 11 homers and winning a Gold Glove. He batted .316 with 39 RBIs during one 54-game stretch last year.
”This guy has an opportunity to win an MVP in my opinion,” first-year manager Pedro Grifol said. ”If he puts it all together, it’s special. We’ve all seen the power. We’ve seen the speed. We’ve seen the way he runs out there in center field and how he plays defense and steals bases. So definitely nothing he can’t do on a baseball field. We just have to keep him out there for 162 (games).”
It’s a different Robert this year in a variety of ways. He is going by Luis Robert Jr. now after a discussion with his father. It’s his first major league camp without Jose Abreu, who signed with Houston in free agency. He also is preparing to play for Cuba in the World Baseball Classic.
Abreu had been a mentor for Robert and several other players with the White Sox. Robert said it’s going to be weird not having Abreu around, but he still remembers everything he learned from the big first baseman.
”He always told me to work every day, to work hard. Even if the results aren’t there, just keep working,” Robert said. ”That’s the only way that you can get the results that you are expecting.”
Robert will have at least one familiar teammate when he joins Cuba for the WBC. White Sox third baseman Yoan Moncada also plans to play.
”I was pretty close to going to the World Baseball Classic last time. That was the year that I made the decision to come here,” Robert said. ”I missed the WBC that time. I’m very happy to be present there.”
Follow Jay Cohen at https://twitter.com/jcohenap
AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports