Top Cuban outfield prospect Luis Robert left his home island in November, according to Ben Badler of Baseball America. His whereabouts are not given in the report, but it seems he is working towards joining a major league organization.
Clubs figure to line up for a chance at the 19-year-old Robert, a right-handed-hitting outfielder who Badler labels one of Cuba’s five best talents, citing his plus bat speed and power. Though he may ultimately turn into a corner outfielder, Robert is currently capable of playing center. Already a productive player in his age-18 season, Robert turned things up a notch in his most recent Serie Nacional action. Before he departed, Robert was hitting a robust .401/.526/.687 with 12 home runs and 11 steals over 232 plate appearances. That put him at or near the top of the leaderboard in most major offensive categories — certainly, rather a notable output given his age (even with the number of talented players that have departed Cuba’s top league in recent years).
As Badler explains at length, Robert’s timeline for obtaining clearance will play a major role in determining his earning capacity and ultimate landing spot. Because the old CBA’s international rules will apply through to the end of the current July 2 signing period — which wraps up on June 15 of this year — it’s still possible that Robert will become eligible to sign under the current system. If not, he’ll be subject to the tighter cap that is set to go into effect under the new CBA (which Badler detailed in full right here).
While Robert could certainly still land a significant payday under either regime, the current one holds out the hope for the greatest riches. That’s because it allows organizations to spend at leisure, so long as they are willing to sacrifice their ability to dole out $300K+ bonuses for two future years and pay a 100% tax on the amount they go past their pool allocation. Under the new system, all clubs will face spending caps, which can be extended only through trades for additional space. While some smaller market teams will receive slightly higher allocations, most organizations won’t be able to go past $4.75MM with their base pool and can’t trade for more than a total of $8.3MM. Plus, Badler notes, some teams have already committed portions of their 2017-18 pool space to other players.
If Robert is cleared to sign before the signing period is up, he’d at least have greater options. That would open the door to the clubs that have already gone past their limits — the Astros, Athletics, Braves, Cardinals, Nationals, Padres and Reds. Otherwise, those organizations would join others (the Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, and Royals) on the sidelines for significant international talents. Alternatively, he could join another club either before or after the signing calendar flips. Badler notes that the White Sox have been discussed as a team with possible interest; if Robert is cleared in time, Chicago (or another hypothetical team with heavy interest) could elect to spend past its 2016-17 pool limits (thus taking on penalties) or make Robert the signature piece of their 2017-18 signing group.