White Sox

Video pitch helps White Sox sign potential cornerstone Luis Robert to loaded farm system

Video pitch helps White Sox sign potential cornerstone Luis Robert to loaded farm system

The White Sox have reportedly already added a first-round draft pick and it isn’t even June.

According to multiple reports, the team’s rebuild added a potential cornerstone as Cuban free agent outfielder Luis Robert has agreed to sign a deal that would force the White Sox to heavily exceed their 2016-17 international signing bonus pool.

Believed to be the equivalent of a high first-round draft pick, Robert, 19, reportedly has accepted a deal worth more than $25 million from the White Sox. Another key addition to the team’s ongoing rebuild, Robert likely would be the No. 3 prospect in an extremely talented White Sox farm system behind Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech.

It is believed that the other team vying for Robert, 19, the St. Louis Cardinals, offered the outfielder more money. 

While Robert’s deal is reportedly worth $25-30 million, the club’s cost will be double whatever the final amount is as they must pay an equivalent tax to Major League Baseball for going over their allotted amount.

White Sox officials didn't comment on the signing on Saturday. But shortly after word got out, the White Sox made a move that signals the Robert deal is close to final. They announced the trade of minor-league pitcher Alex Katz to the Baltimore Orioles for two international signing bonus slots worth $756,300. The move helps the club offset some of the penalty tax they will pay for exceeding their original bonus pool of $2,973,500, according to Baseball America.

By exceeding their pool, the White Sox also would forfeit the ability to sign any international amateurs for more than $300,000 in each of the next two years. But the thinking is that few international players in those upcoming classes would have the same sort of potential impact as quickly as Robert, who is more advanced than normal international prospects.

[MORE: Report - White Sox, Cuban outfielder Luis Robert agree to $25 million deal]

In many cases, international prospects are signed when they’re 16 or 17 years old, which means they still have a growth period left and are harder to project. At 19, Robert already stands at 6-foot-3, 175 pounds. He also is experienced, having played four seasons in the Cuban National Series. Last year, Robert his .401/.526/.687 with 12 home runs and 40 RBIs in 232 plate appearances for Ciego de Avila.

While word of the signing didn’t leak until around 1 p.m. CST, Robert had signaled his intentions in the final hours that he indeed was headed to the White Sox. The prospect changed the avatar on his Instagram account to a new picture with him wearing a White Sox hat.

It is believed that Robert was extremely impressed by the White Sox, who made a presentation to accompany his live workout for the team. General manager Rick Hahn and executive vice president Kenny Williams attended the workout. But the team also presented Robert with a video narrated in Spanish by manager Rick Renteria that included testimonials from fellow Cubans Jose Abreu and Moncada urging Robert to join them in Chicago.

Robert is yet another talented addition to a White Sox farm system that has rocketed up the rankings, according to Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus and MLB Pipeline, among others.

The team added Moncada and Kopech as well as No. 8 prospect Luis Basabe in a 4-for-1 deal for Chris Sale in December. A day later, the White Sox added top prospects Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez as well as Dane Dunning (who is expected to move up the charts) in exchange for Adam Eaton.

The trades netted the White Sox seven prospects and came on the heels of what looks to be a strong 2016 draft class. The White Sox added catcher Zack Collins, reliever Zack Burdi, outfielders Alex Call and Jameson Fisher, and starter Alec Hansen in the first four rounds. Before the December trades, all five were listed among Baseball America’s top-10 White Sox prospect list.

If the Futures Game tells us anything, it's that the White Sox outfield of the future is ridiculously deep

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USA TODAY

If the Futures Game tells us anything, it's that the White Sox outfield of the future is ridiculously deep

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Just how deep is the White Sox outfield of the future?

The answer was embodied by the leadoff hitter in the Futures Game on Sunday afternoon in the nation’s capital.

Luis Alexander Basabe was one of two White Sox representatives in the prospect showcase held two days prior to baseball’s Midsummer Classic, along with pitcher Dylan Cease. And while Basabe was very deserving of the honor in the middle of a strong 2018 campaign — he blasted a two-run homer on a 102 mph pitch in the third inning — he’s not exactly the first name that comes to mind when running down the organization’s top prospects in the outfield.

MLB Pipeline ranks four outfielders — Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Blake Rutherford and Micker Adolfo — ahead of Basabe on its list of White Sox prospects. And after Basabe come Ryan Cordell and Luis Gonzalez. And that’s before mentioning players outside the top 30 in the system, guys having big years like Joel Booker and Alex Call.

It makes for a lengthy list of possibilities to populate the outfield on the next contending White Sox squad.

“There’s a lot of players who have good ability, and that’s cool,” Basabe said Sunday. “I look at them, and I say, ‘They are good!’ And that makes me work more to be in the big leagues.”

That, of course, has been Rick Hahn’s goal all along during this rebuilding effort, to build as much depth throughout the farm system as possible.

That depth has been seemingly achieved among the organization’s starting-pitching corps, where Cease, Michael Kopech, Alec Hansen and Dane Dunning have joined current big leaguers Carlos Rodon, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez as potential members of the rotation of the future.

The outfield, though, is equally loaded.

That depth is obvious with Basabe’s selection to the Futures Game. The White Sox are showing they deserve the title of one of baseball’s best farm systems when their No. 13 prospect is capable of reaching the game’s premier prospect event.

Of course, the other benefit of depth is tied to Basabe’s selection: It’s a heck of a safety net for the inevitable injuries that come with being a professional baseball player. Jimenez, Robert and Adolfo are all currently dealing with injuries of varying significance, with Adolfo out for the next eight to 10 months after having Tommy John surgery and Robert out for the second long stretch this season with a thumb injury.

No one is suggesting that these specific injuries will derail the careers of any of those three big talents. But being able to point to other young outfielders as backup plans is a key for any organization, especially one so focused on the future like the White Sox. Prospects succumbing to injuries or simply not reaching expectations is a reality of the game. But if such things should occur, the White Sox, at least, have quite the Plan Bs in the likes of Basabe, Rutherford, Gonzalez and more.

Take a look at the numbers the White Sox outfield prospects have put up this season.

— Jimenez: .313/.371/.541 with 12 homers and 46 RBIs in 65 with with Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte

— Robert: .293/.372/.373 with five extra-base hits and nine RBNIs in 21 games with Class A Kannapolis and Class A Winston-Salem

— Adolfo: .283/.368/.466 with 11 homers and 50 RBIs in 78 games with Class A Winston-Salem

— Rutherford: .305/.348/.468 with 30 extra-base hits and 60 RBIs in 75 games for Class A Winston-Salem

— Basabe: .256/.356/.447 with 10 homers and 37 RBIs in 80 games with Class A Winston-Salem and Double-A Birmingham

— Gonzalez: .300/.352/.478 with nine homers, 26 doubles and 38 RBIsin 75 games with Class A Kannapolis and Class A Winston-Salem

— Booker: .285/.364/.440 with seven homers, 55 runs scored and 27 RBIs in 74 games with Class A Winston-Salem and Double-A Birmingham

— Call: .251/.359/.407 with seven homers and 36 RBIs in 77 games with Class A Winston-Salem and Double-A Birmingham

That’s all very, very good news for the White Sox.

Back in spring training, Jimenez, Robert and Adolfo talked about their desire to arrive on the South Side at about the same time and make up the team’s outfield one day. Well, there’s a good chance that the three outfielders on the next contending White Sox team will come from the above list of names.

“There’s a lot of competition,” Basabe said. “We’re here, this is what it’s about. We’ve got to compete.”

Yoan Moncada's knee will be fine, White Sox say, but what should we make of his roller-coaster first half?

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USA TODAY

Yoan Moncada's knee will be fine, White Sox say, but what should we make of his roller-coaster first half?

It sounds like Yoan Moncada’s knee is going to be fine.

The immediate future of that knee looked very much in question during the fifth inning of Saturday’s game against the visiting Kansas City Royals, when Moncada crumpled to the ground after getting hit in the knee with a baseball. He was in some pretty significant-looking pain, which after the game the second baseman likened to being hit with a hammer.

But Moncada hopes to play in the White Sox first-half finale Sunday, and manager Rick Renteria isn’t even leaning toward adding a fifth day to Moncada’s All-Star break until he sees how his second baseman feels Sunday.

It ended up being a good forecast for Moncada, who has had the definition of an up-and-down first half of his first full season in the major leagues.

While much of the talk has been about Moncada’s struggles so far this season, he’s actually been hitting very well over the past two weeks, coming into Saturday’s game with a .300/.391/.525 slash line and five extra-base hits, six RBIs and eight runs scored in the previous 10 games.

“I think he’s just being a little more aggressive in the zone early,” Renteria said. “He’s had quite a few really good at-bats over the last 10 days. Even if I think about (Friday), him walking the first three times, working deep counts, continues to be very focused in the zone. I mean, he understands the strike zone as good as anybody I’ve ever seen, regardless of how much time he has or doesn’t have in the big leagues. He’s got a really good idea.

“I think now he’s trying to take advantage of knowing that guys are going to try to come after you early. And if it’s in the zone, fire on that pitch. Get the barrel to it and do what you can.”

It’s a good stretch in a season that has to this point been defined by stretches for Moncada, who just a year ago was the No. 1 prospect in the game. Through the campaign’s first 17 games, his batting average was just barely higher than .200. Then he got hot for next 12 games before hitting the disabled list, which brought his season to a screeching halt. He returned in mid May and watched his batting average drop more than .020 points before the end of the month. In 46 games between May 15 and July 1, Moncada slashed .195/.242/.324. And then things finally reached an upswing in the last two weeks.

None of that tells the entire story, of course, good or bad.

Moncada has had his big moments, and Renteria, for one, continues to rave about Moncada’s mastery of the strike zone. But a look at the offensive averages leaves out other not-so-pretty areas of his game, like his major league leading 130 strikeouts and his 15 fielding errors, the third most in baseball.

Expectations were high for Moncada coming into the season and understandably so as the first-to-arrive major piece of this rebuilding effort. His acquisition in the Chris Sale trade followed by his White Sox debut last summer made his development the main storyline of this season.

So far, things have obviously not lived up to the hype, and Moncada isn’t happy, either, though he’s taking cues from his manager, Renteria, and teammate/mentor/friend, Jose Abreu, and looking at the positives.

“It hasn’t been as good as I wanted it to be,” Moncada said through a team translator on Friday. “But it hasn’t been as bad as you can think. It has been a challenging first half, but I’ve been learning a lot and working. I think the second half is going to be much better.”

Certainly this kind of performance from a young player (remember that Moncada is only 23 years old) isn’t completely unexpected. While he arrived in the majors after tearing up Triple-A, Moncada, as the White Sox brass will remind you, is not a finished product. None of these young players are. And the struggles at the plate and in the field could wind up not as harbingers of doom but simply as growing pains on the way to the big league stardom White Sox fans hope for from Moncada and all the other highly touted youngsters in the organization. Development isn’t linear, as Rick Hahn likes to say, and Moncada was perhaps never destined to improve in such dramatic fashion that it was visibly noticeable to the layman from one day to the next.

But at the same time, fans are understandably irked by repeating mistakes. In just the last handful of games, Moncada added to his strikeout total, made a fielding error that cost the White Sox a run and failed as a base runner to pick up a ball hit to the outfield, getting doubled up for a double play.

Talking specifically about the fielding error, Moncada’s 15th of the season, Renteria explained what happened — Moncada was trying a little too quickly to turn a double play — and that it is another learning moment in a season of them for these White Sox.

“Just something where you end up have to emphasize in a double play situation like that not to get anxious,” Renteria said. “You have to catch the ball first and then feed it to the guy on the other end. It’s not abnormal for young players to try to turn the DP from where they are at. It’s not the case. Receiving the ball fist and then giving the good feed. It’s not unheard of. It happens a lot. They speed it up a little bit.

“You go over it with him a little bit, and he cleans it up. That’s one more experience we can rely upon that didn’t turn out well but we can talk about it and have it run through his mind and see if he can understand exactly what we are talking about. He normally does.”

That’s all part of the development for Moncada, and like great players before him, rookie-year struggles in certain facets can disappear by the following season. Look at Kris Bryant on the other side of town, who led the National League with 199 strikeouts during his rookie season and has watched that number plummet in each season since. Perhaps Moncada will end up with similar results.

There’s been plenty to dislike about Moncada’s first half, but that doesn’t mean the flashes of brilliance weren’t there. Moncada carries the burden of expectations as one of the prospects touted as a main piece of the organization’s bright future. And just because the first half didn’t look like anyone wanted it to doesn’t mean he still can’t get to that point.

And hey, if the second half looks more like the last two weeks, maybe these first-half struggles fade into distant memory.