I was introduced to Major League Baseball in (Year redacted) the Mid 1980s. Those of a similar vintage came of age as fantastic athletes such as Darryl Strawberry, Deion Sanders, Bo Jackson and Ken Griffey Jr. captivated with style and feats perhaps not seen before. Despite this each carries an aura of what if. All still had immense success, but What could have been if not for injuries and other sporting commitments? There is Another player I believe that belongs in that pantheon. I also believe that Luis Robert is Spanish for Eric Davis.
It might seem odd asking what if about a player that spent 17 years in the Big Leagues. Injuries unfortunately prevented Davis from reaching his ceiling. But in small samples we saw some of the greatest athletic tools ever. Luis Robert might possess as many tools as this often overlooked dynamic talent.
Davis was a lithe outfielder who when healthy covered more of the earth than seawater in centre field. At 6’2 165lbs comparisons to Darryl Strawberry were inevitable. They were High School rivals and became friends in Los Angeles. Strawberry broke onto the scene in 1983 winning the Rookie of the Year award with The Mets. Davis debuted soon after in 1984 with Cincinnati. ‘Eric the Red’ as he was dubbed took a few years to cement himself. By age 24 he was running neck and neck with Strawberry as the top young star in the game. Davis’ 1986 season is one of the most unique ever. His .277/.378/.523 slash line is impressive for such a young player. Davis’ 27 HR and 80 RBI is perhaps the most ridiculous power and speed output we have seen.
1987 was generally better with his average climbing to .293 with 37 Home Runs and 100 RBI in 129 games. Davis missed time with small dings, foreshadowing what would be the through line of his career. He would never play more than 135 games in a season. In fact he only eclipsed 100 plus games in 9 of his 17 MLB seasons. During a 162 game stretch from 1986 to 1987 though he slashed .308/.406/.622 with 47 home runs, 123 RBI’s and 98 Stolen bases vs 12 caught stealing. A healthier Davis might have become the first 40/40 player with some speculating that 50/50 could be possible.
This brings us to the best athletic prospect if not of his generation at least to come out of Cuba. A player who similarly to Davis busted onto the scene as a high schooler except Luis Robert was excelling in Cuba’s top “professional” League. Robert stands 6’2 like Davis but likely last weighed 165 lbs when he was 16 years old. The two players though play the outfield and the game overall with an athletic ease seldom seen.
Luis Robert might prove to be the last true free agent signing to come out of Cuba as International rules changed soon after The White Sox inked him. The Pale Hose signed him for $26 million and were willing to pay an equal tax penalty and subsequently gave him the largest extension to a player who had yet had an MLB at bat. This would see him debut at 22, similar to Davis. Robert show flashes but slightly underachieved in his 2020 rookie season. Impressively he did take home the Gold Glove in Center Field, not a common occurrence for a rookie.
2021 saw The White Sox enter the season with high expectations for the first time in a decade. This took some of the pressure off of Robert. Unfortunately Robert did his best Eric Davis impression in missing the majority of the season with a torn hip flexor. However, again like Davis he bounced back and upon his return played like the most talented if not best player in the game.
As of this writing Robert has played in 132 career games, a slightly arbitrary number but one that aligns with Davis healthiest seasons. Relax your eyes and you might think you were looking at Eric Davis’ baseball reference page. .289/.339/.507 26 Home Runs 77 RBI 20 steals vs 3 caught stealing. That rare mix of power, speed and general athletic elegance is tantalizing.
Hopefully for Robert, White Sox fans and anybody who enjoys watching the game 2021’s injury proves fluke. Some might think that comparing him to a player that chronically battled to stay on the field is a curse onto itself. Again, Davis still had an impressive career, it just lags in comparison to his trajectory after five seasons in The Show. I truly do believe though that Robert has the type of talent that Eric Davis did. Even if Robert becomes as familiar with the Injured list, he will still be a game changer when he steps between the lines.
If Luis Robert is Spanish for Eric Davis we could be witnessing the future of the game. We should all be praying for health and for him to get the chance to pursue some of the marks that Davis was prevented from due to his body not cooperating. In a worse scenario if Robert is merely able to match Davis’ peak and or overall longevity the game is still in a better place.