It's easy to get excited about Luis Robert, the White Sox's wunderkind prospect who is expected to make his major-league debut on opening day. After all, the White Sox signed him to a contract that guarantees $50 million and could be worth up to $88 million, without ever seeing him in the big leagues, which seems like a pretty good sign of their confidence in him. Add in an extremely exciting profile for Fantasy — Robert hit .328 with 32 homers and 36 stolen bases in 122 games as a 21-year-old last season — and it's not hard to see why he's a top-100 pick in average draft position before ever facing a major-league pitch.
The question is whether he's worth that pick. On the one hand, this could be the last time you can draft Robert for less than a second-round pick for the next decade. If Robert makes the impact his potential suggests, he's going to be one of the most valuable Fantasy picks you could make in 2020. In all likelihood, it's not a question of if, but when Robert will be a Fantasy superstar.
But it's still a pretty big if for 2020. The projections systems generally all like Robert — SportsLine's projections have him as the No. 111 player for 2020, while the ATC projections have him hitting 21 homers and stealing 19 bases while hitting .262 — something only nine hitters did last year, and all but Yasiel Puig and Danny Santana are being drafted ahead of Robert. That would be a fine outcome, but this is hardly a safe profile; each of the projections systems on FanGraphs.com has him for at least a 25.4% strikeout rate, and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 5:1 in most cases. Plate discipline is likely to be an issue for Robert, and that kind of profile might need some time to adjust against big-league pitchers.
Plus, you don't have to look too far into the past to find "can't-miss" prospects who didn't reach expectations right away. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Eloy Jimenez were far and away the top two prospects Fantasy players were coveting this time last season, and while neither was a total flop, they weren't super helpful for Fantasy purposes. Kyle Tucker was one of the most hyped prospects of the 2018 class, and he flopped in his first taste of the majors and hasn't established himself as a contributor yet.
On the other hand, you have Fernando Tatis, who overcame similar concerns about his plate discipline to emerge as an elite Fantasy contributor — I have him as the No. 2 hitter in 2019 on a per-game basis. He managed that with a two-pronged approach, one that is probably more repeatable for 2020 (and thus more of a lesson for Robert drafters) than the other: An incredibly high batting average on balls in play and an elite stolen-base pace. Robert should be an above-average BABIP hitter based on his minor-league track record and skill set, but you can't expect anything higher than the .335 range. But the steals could give him a pathway to Fantasy viability even if he doesn't hit right away — just look at Victor Robles' 2019 season, and he isn't the same kind of hitter Robert potentially can be.
But can you actually count on Robert to run like Tatis and Robles did? The recent track record for the White Sox isn't super promising on that front: They are 15th in average stolen base attempts over Rick Renteria's three seasons as manager, and were 22nd last season.
And you might say, "well, they haven't had a player like Robert to play with." Except they have. Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada were both comparable base-stealers in terms of volume and efficiency to Robert in their time in the minors and haven't gotten close to those paces in the majors:
Now, Moncada has talked about wanting to run more in 2020 after finally establishing himself as a high-end hitter in 2019 — a case I made when calling him a breakout candidate for 2020 — but the numbers to date are what they are. They show that despite being comparable (in Moncada's case, quite a bit better) base-stealers in the minors to Robert, neither has been able to sustain that in the majors. There are extenuating circumstances across the board for both —injuries for Moncada and low on-base percentages for Anderson — but there's no guarantee those won't be issues for Robert too, given his track record and skill set.
And, manager Rick Renteria talked about liking the speed Anderson and Moncada bring to the top of the lineup — read between the lines on where that probably means Robert will hit, at least to start the season — he made a point of noting it doesn't necessarily mean the team will run more.
"I'm not trying to alert anybody (that) we're going to be running more," Renteria told reports earlier in the spring, "but we can take advantage of the skill set he brings to the table."
Robert is, of course, a special talent, and just because Anderson and Moncada haven't run as much as we'd like to see, it doesn't mean the same will hold true for him. In fact, hitting toward the bottom of the lineup, away from the Sox's suddenly fearsome top five, could free him up to run more than either has. It's certainly possible.
But based on what we've seen from the White Sox, it probably makes sense to keep expectations low. If Robert hits well and stays in the lineup all season, 20-25 steals is a pretty good place to set them. Given the risk inherent in investing in prospects, especially ones with his plate discipline profile, I'm not sure 20 steals is enough to make him worth his current cost in a redraft league.
Robert could be an elite Fantasy player. The skills are all there. He'll get there someday, of that, I'm sure. But I'll be letting someone else invest a top-100 pick to find out if he'll do it in 2020.
So which sleepers should you snatch in your draft? And which undervalued first baseman can help you win a championship? Visit SportsLine now to get rankings for every single position, all from the model that called Kenta Maeda's huge breakout last season, and find out.