CHICAGO — The White Sox used a mix of their Cuban club tradition and new-school technology to lure prized prospect Luis Robert.
The money didn’t hurt, either.
Chicago finalized a minor league contract with the 19-year-old outfielder on Saturday, a deal that includes a $26 million signing bonus and will cost the White Sox an additional $26 million in tax for exceeding their international bonus pool.
Robert is the latest prospect added to the Chicago system, a process which began during the offseason with trades of ace Chris Sale and outfielder Adam Eaton. Chicago is rebuilding after four straight losing seasons.
“We have been able to accomplish a lot in terms of spreading our (international) pools over the last several years, but now we have a chance to get potentially such an impactful talent,” general manager Rick Hahn said.
The primary prospect in the Sale deal was Yoan Moncada, a Cuban second baseman. Jose Abreu and the late Minnie Minoso are among the Cubans who have played for the White Sox.
“I feel proud,” said Robert through a translator. “Those players were examples in Cuba. For me to be wearing the same uniform, it’s an honor.”
During one of Hahn’s trips to the Dominican Republic to scout Robert, he brought a virtual-reality presentation of the White Sox ballpark clubhouse narrated by manager Rick Renteria, along with video testimonials from Moncada, Abreu, and reliever Michael Ynoa, a Dominican who shares a trainer with Robert.
“The video helped a lot, but the thing that made the decision was they were the team who showed the most interest in me,” Robert said. “That made me feel good.”
Marco Paddy, the White Sox head of international operations, scouted Robert since he was 14.
Paddy told Hahn that Robert’s talent level was worth the investment in the final signing period of bidding wars for international amateurs. Chicago must pay a 100 percent tax on the amount of bonuses exceeding $2,973,500, not including bonuses of $10,000 or under. In the signing period that starts July 2, Chicago’s bonuses will be capped at $4.75 million, not including bonuses of $10,000 or less.
Robert is projected as a center fielder with speed, a compact swing and power. He has not played in a game since July.
Hahn said Robert will head to the club’s academy in the Dominican Republic and train toward joining the White Sox Dominican Summer League team in the coming weeks.
But first, Robert enjoyed looking around his future digs on the South Side before throwing out the ceremonial first pitch to Abreu during a sun-splashed doubleheader on a holiday weekend. His immediate plans include buying houses for his family, his uncle and himself.
He’ll join peers such as Moncada, and hard-throwing pitchers Michael Kopech, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, who have White Sox fans dreaming of a brighter future.
“The part that hit me the most,” Roberto said of the video, “was when Ricky Renteria was talking straight to me saying that they are bringing me here to win several championships.”
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