Cuban outfielder Luis Robert, 19, has an agreement in place to sign with the White Sox, pending a physical. The two sides are still finalizing the exact terms of the deal. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports first reported on Twitter that the White Sox were closing in on a deal with Robert.
Based on his present ability, Robert should be ready for an assignment to low or high Class A, though that has yet to be determined, and several recent Cuban players have started their careers in the Dominican Summer League for tax purposes. The signing will put the White Sox over their international bonus pool for the current 2016-17 signing period, which means the White Sox will be unable to sign any international amateur players for more than $300,000 for the next two signing periods beginning with the 2017-18 period that opens on July 2.
At 6-foot-3, Robert has a strong but extremely lean, athletic frame, standing out for his physicality, athleticism, tools and track record of performance, both against his peers and older competition. He’s a righthanded hitter with a good set up, premium bat speed and a fairly sound, compact swing. When Robert connects, he drives the ball with high exit velocity and plus raw power.
While Robert has consistently performed at a high level, one of his biggest risk factor is his tendency to swing-and-miss. Robert isn’t a free-swinger, though at international tournaments and in Cuba, he has shown a vulnerability toward chasing fastballs above the strike zone, swinging through even below-average velocity. He’s also expanded the strike zone against breaking balls off the plate, though at other times he’s been able to lay off those pitches. He’s at his best when he stays through the ball and uses right-center field, though he’s often pull-oriented and tries to hook too many pitches on the outer third rather than driving them the opposite way.
Robert moves well for his size and came up through the Cuban junior leagues as a center fielder, though when he got to Ciego de Avila’s top team in Serie Nacional, he mostly played left field. When Robert was in Cuba, he clocked at 4.2 to 4.25 seconds from home to first at his best, which indicates 55 to 60 speed on the 20-80 scale. Since arriving in the Dominican Republic, multiple scouts said he has run the 60-yard dash in times that indicate he may have significantly increased his speed. He should develop in the minor leagues as a center fielder with a chance to stay there, though he has the power and offensive upside to move to a corner if necessary.
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For a teenager, Robert built up a formidable resume while playing in Cuba. At 14, he as one of the top hitters in Cuba’s 16U national league in 2012, then that summer went to Mexico for the 15U World Championship. The next year, Robert played in Cuba’s 18U league as a 14-year-old and batted .325/.420/.475 in 146 plate appearances. After that season, Robert went to the 18U World Cup in Taiwan, where he batted .333/.409/.444 in seven games and was teammates with current White Sox second baseman Yoan Moncada, now the game’s No. 1 prospect.
Back in the 18U league in 2014, Robert batted .380/.530/.570 in 134 plate appearances, tying for second in the league in home runs (three) and stolen bases (17). He then crushed Cuba’s 23U development league, hitting batting .406/.530/.631 in 85 plate appearances to lead the league in OPS, then traveled to Mexico for the COPABE 18U Pan American Championship in Mexico. Robert hit .280 and slugged .880 in 34 plate appearances, tying teammate Jorge Ona (now with the Padres) with four home runs for the tournament lead.
In 2015, Robert batted .381/.558/.598 with six home runs in 138 plate appearances in Cuba’s 18U league. He led the league in OBP, slugging and home runs, tied for lead in stolen base (13) and ranked second in walks with 35, including a league-high 17 intentional walks. Robert went to Japan that year where he was by far the best player on a modestly talented Cuban team at the 18U World Cup. He batted .406/.457/.857 in 35 plate appearances with two home runs.
“It’s a lot harder than the Mexican tournament because it’s a higher quality of baseball,” Robert said in an interview in March. “But also, in a short tournament like that, the jet lag is really tough. We were there the first couple of days and we were on the field falling asleep because it’s like a total turnover. When it was nighttime in our bodies, we were playing a game. It’s very hard to show up and perform well, but thank God that I did. The quality of baseball was higher and I really had to fight the jet lag the first couple of days, but I did a good job.”
Robert spent multiple seasons playing in Cuba’s top league, Serie Nacional, including the 2015-16 season when he batted .304/.382/.410 with 32 walks and 46 strikeouts in 317 plate appearances. Last summer, Robert was part of a Cuban team that participated in the independent Can-Am League.
“When I went to the Can-Am League and played there, I saw a lot better pitching,” Robert said. “The quality of the pitching was better. I did well there and I took that confidence back to Cuba. It was pretty easy from then on.”
Upon his return to Cuba, Robert broke through as the best player in Serie Nacional, where the talent pool at that point had already thinned immensely due to the volume of players leaving the country. At the time Robert left Cuba, he was leading the league in both OBP and slugging at .401/.526/.687 with 12 home runs in 232 plate appearances, with 38 walks (10 intentional), 30 strikeouts and 11 steals in 17 tries.