The White Sox have officially signed Cuban outfielder Luis Robert, and he’ll receive a $26MM bonus, Bruce Levine of 670thescore.com tweets. The deal is of the minor-league variety, according to the White Sox’ team announcement.
Chicago had long been seen as one of the top suitors for the highly-regarded Robert, with reports noting that the White Sox and Cardinals were the favorites to land the 19-year-old outfielder. The Padres, Reds, Astros, and Athletics were also linked to Robert.
Since Robert is subject to international bonus pools, the White Sox had to far exceed their pool limit ($2.973MM) to make the signing. Since every dollar spent over the pool limit comes at a 100% luxury tax, the Sox will actually pay in the $50-$60MM range to sign Robert, between both his bonus and the overage tax.
In addition, the White Sox will be penalized for exceeding their bonus pool in this international signing period (which ends on June 15) by being limited to signings of no more than $300K in each of the next two signing periods. Notably, the White Sox were the only known Robert suitor who hadn’t yet exceeded their pool limit for the 2016-17 signing period. Baseball America’s Ben Badler recently observed that Chicago hadn’t lined up any deals with highly-touted prospects for the coming July 2 period, which served as a hint that the Sox were planning to take themselves out of the international prospect running by signing Robert.
Since the international bonus pool system will be much stricter under the new collective bargaining agreement, however, Robert was seen as the last blue chip international talent available under the pre-existing rules, which end on June 15. It therefore made sense for him to sign as quickly as possible in order to score a larger payday than he would’ve by waiting until the next July 2 period, and it also made sense for the White Sox to make this last-second splash while they still could. As we’ve seen in recent years, several teams have employed the strategy of far exceeding their pool limit in order to sign one or several highly-regarded international prospects during one signing period, essentially sacrificing two future years under penalty to make one big splurge.
Robert comes with enough promise that it is clear to see why the White Sox felt he was worth the risk. Considered by many evaluators to be the second-best international prospect in the world (behind only Japan’s Shohei Otani), Robert hit .314/.409/.467 over 192 games and 711 plate appearances in the Serie Nacional and playing for a Cuban team in the Can-Am League.
Badler examines Robert’s tools and history in Cuba’s Serie Nacional as part of this scouting report that is well worth a full read. The 19-year-old is already 6’3″ and possesses “premium bat speed” and “plus raw power” when he connects, though Badler notes that Robert has some issues in making contact and is “often pull-oriented.” Robert is a good athlete who should play center field in the minors with a chance to remain at the position, and he also possesses quite a bit of running ability. He was already rated in the 55-60 range (on the 20-80 scouting scale) speed-wise while in Cuba, and Badler said that scouts watching Robert in recent Dominican Republic workouts had clocked him at even faster 60-yard dash times.
Signing Robert is the latest step in White Sox GM Rick Hahn’s rebuilding plan, and Chicago has amassed an enviable amount of young talent just over the last six months. The Pale Hose already added the likes of Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Luis Alexander Basabe, and Dane Dunning in two blockbuster trades with the Red Sox (for Chris Sale) and the Nationals (Adam Eaton). Robert will slot right in near the top of Chicago’s prospect ranking list, rivaling Moncada for sheer potential, as MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez recently illustrated.